7 Ways Cell Phones are Destroying Your Business Productivity

The cell phone turns 40 years old this month. Are we less productive because of it?
April 15, 2013

The cell phone turned 40 years old this month. When inventor Martin Cooper made that first call on his prototype Motorola DynaTac, consumers had no idea the impact it would someday have on their everyday lives.

Cell phones for the most part are no longer productivity tools in business, but rather a major distraction. The promise that they would increase employee productivity has died, but the addiction remains. (This is why the original BlackBerry was called the “CrackBerry.”) This month, with the availability of the new Facebook phone, employees now will have an easier way to interrupt their day to check their status and feeds. 

When was the last time you saw someone "on the job" also on their phone? In a single day last week, I observed these employees checking their phones:

  •  A TSA security officer while screening passengers in at the airport
  • A retail clerk while checking out a customer at the cash register
  • A janitor while cleaning a bathroom at the airport
  • A police office patroling a street corner in Chicago
  • A crossing guard helping children in the street after school

If a small business tries to forbid the use of phones, a Harris Interactive survey reveals that employees will find ways to sneak a look at them by hiding them under their desks or going to the restroom. (Don’t even think of trying to block the cell signal at your office, since it’s illegal!)

Here are the 7 ways cell phones are hurting your business and what to do about it:

1. They distract employees. How well can workers be doing their job if they are constantly checking their cell phone for texts or social media feeds? Multitasking guarantees that the quality and quantity of their work will certainly going down.

What to do about it:
Forbid the use of personal cell phones while on the job. They can be used at breaks. They should not be carried at all or need to be physically shut off. While this might seem harsh, it's the only way to ensure employees are not distracted.

2. They interrupt important meetings. Since the phone is always on, meetings get interrupted by less important activity on an employee’s cell phone.

What to do about it:
Ask employees to turn off their cell phones when enterting an important meeting or actually collect them at the door. This will be disconcerting at first, but will pay off with more productive results.

RELATED: 10 Reasons Your Employees Are So Stressed Out

3. They're a security risk. With many employees bringing their own devices to work (BYOD), mixing personal and professional applications on one phone can put the entire small business at risk. Security is always at risk with one unlocked and lost cell phone.

What to do about it:
Buy mobile devices for all employees who need access to work data. Ensure they're set up securely and that these settings are checked monthly.

4. They're physically dangerous. Multitasking employees can be more prone to injury. This doesn’t just mean being on the phone while driving, but even while walking and texting.

What to do about it:
Put in the employee handbook that workers should never use a cell phone while in transit in any way. If a manager observes this behavior, the employee should be reminded of the policy. 

RELATED: Is Telecommuting Threaten the Work-Life Balance?

5. They prevent a separation of work and home. The constant connection to the phone ensures that every employee will bring work problems home and home problems to work. Having no downtime between the two can lead to burnout.

What to do about it: Do not ask employees to make calls or send emails during off work hours with the expectation that they need to be dealt with before the next workday.

6. They spread confidential information in public. Ever been in a public place where a person was having a very private business conversation? Not only is this a company risk, but how focused can the employee really be?

What to do about it:
Counsel employees never to use their cell phones for work in a public setting. 

7. They actually add work. Phil Frost, managing partner of Main Street ROI, states that if work email is checked on a non-work device, the employee either replies quickly (not optimal) or has to reread that email at work again (not productive). 

What to do about it:
Make sure that any device employees use are technically in sync so there is no duplication of work effort.

Read more articles on productivity.

Photo: iStockphoto