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Why Personal Use of Smartphones Is Wrecking Your Business

March 26th, 2014

Posted by to Small Business Marketing

Barry Moltz

Today, we here at Marketing Zen are excited to bring you a blog post from contributing author Barry Moltz, nationally recognized author, speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur.

 

Barry MoltzThe smartphone is the silent killer in any business. It keeps many companies stuck in neutral and prevents them from truly soaring to their potential.

Most companies don’t enforce rules for smartphones that are being used for personal reasons during work hours. In my “Unstuck” survey of 5,000 small business owners, fifty-five percent revealed they have an informal policy and if people don’t abuse it, they do not enforce it. Only three percent actually ban these devices from work. Twenty percent of owners just throw up their hands and answered “You mean there is a choice?”

Many managers see people using these phones on the job, but have a difficult time figuring out what they are doing that is business related. They know that using smartphones keeps employees distracted from effectively doing their best work, but feel powerless to do anything about it. They don’t want to intrude into their employees’ personal lives and realize how attached most of them are to their phones. However, they can’t help feeling this activity does not allow them to focus on their job. They get stuck because they worry about the employee backlash if they don’t let them use their phones. They want to give your employees the room to get their job done as long as the results are there, but smartphone usage is not creating an environment that is conducive to this.

First, control the attraction to distraction. Despite all the promised potential that smartphones have to make a business run more efficiently, they contain just as much potential to disrupt productivity and it an unorganized mess. Years ago, having games and Internet access available on an office computer was bad enough, but now having all this and more available on a pocket-sized device is a business nightmare. There is no way smartphone usage can be monitored easily or ethically. To save employees from temptation, it’s important for every company to create ground rules for smartphone usage inside their company.

1.  Separate and focus. The first question that needs to be evaluated is—does the employee really need their smartphone for business reasons? Not for emergencies, but in the course of their everyday responsibilities. If the answer is no, then there is no reason they should have it during work hours. Constant monitoring of a smartphone for personal reasons is not good for an individual’s concentration. A 2013 study by Michigan State University confirms that interruptions of 2.8 seconds double the likelihood that an employee will make an error. If the distraction is lengthened to 4.4 seconds, the number of mistakes triples.

2.  Issue a separate phone for business. Many employees bring their own device (BYOD) to work. This complicates smartphone usage if the employee is required to use the same device for business and personal use. If there is a company requirement, buy them a separate device and limit the applications on that phone to business-only use. Periodically track what it is being used. While this may be a bit more expensive for employers and inconvenient for employees, the cost will be more than made up in increased focus and productivity.

3.  Leave the phone out of meetings. Constant smartphone usage at a company can become negatively ingrained in a culture. Employees will be distracted by smartphones during group or one-on-one meetings. Again, the message that constant use of a smartphone sends is that whatever the next interruption is takes precedent over what is being done right now. Advise all employees to leave their phones at their desk or turn them off when coming to any type of meeting.

4.  Ban them. This is becoming a more common policy at American businesses. It should be an easy decision for employees involved in driving or using machinery for work. It is also becoming an issue among employees in open office settings. A recent survey by staffing company Ranstad USA and the Society for Human Resource Management, reported 30% of employees cited cell phones ringing at work as their number-one pet peeve. Remember, phones don’t just ring anymore, but can use a wide variety of distracting musical ringtones.

Many other employers have banned and limited smartphones, and while employees get angry at first, it passes quickly. Make this policy clear in the hiring process. While many employees are very attached to their phones, most of them understand that when they’re in the office, their time belongs to the company. As long as the policy is clear and enforced on everyone, it will not be an issue after a few months. A complete ban is easier because there is no realistic way for any employer to monitor personal smartphone usage on a consistent basis without feeling like a school hall monitor.

Most importantly, this sends a strong signal to customers. Think about the message an employee using a smartphone sends a customer or a coworker. Instead of being welcoming and helpful, it means “I am busy here; don’t bother me.” This is never a way that a person should be treated. When an employee isn’t using their smartphone, they also can focus on attracting customers in person, on the web, by phone, or email.

What is your company’s smartphone policy? What should it be?

 

Barry Moltz gets small businesses unstuck. His new book “How to Get Unstuck: 25 Ways to Get Your Business” shows owners how to finally earn the money they deserve. He can be found at www.barrymoltz.com

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