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How Smartphones Really Fit Into the Workplace

Ubiquity doesn’t begin to describe it.  Not only are Smartphones and mobile devices everywhere, but quite often there are twice as many as you think there are.

Used properly and according to well-developed security plans, Smartphones are reasonably safe.  Companies deploying a Smartphone or other mobile device, exclusively for business use, usually have them protected in such a way that no additional software can be loaded and un-vetted attachments cannot be opened, or even downloaded, in most cases.

close up photo of business man work on  phone at office

The same cannot be said for personal devices.  In a high-connectivity environment where security is paramount, personal devices are often forbidden.  Consequently you will often find that business people are carrying two phones or mobile devices—one for personal use and one strictly for business use.


While private industry has embraced the concept of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), government may have been a little slower on the uptake.  There are clear advantages, of course, in that there is far less capital expenditure, but there are additional advantages.

People are already familiar with their own devices, so they can use them both quickly and efficiently.  If someone is either an iPhone™ user or an Android™ aficionado, they’re likely to have problems if the company deploys a typical business choice like the Blackberry™ with its significantly better security and business orientation, but at the expense of limited utilities and games which interest the average user.

Naturally, with any new system, employees are going to require training.  If an employee has never used the aforementioned Blackberry (for example) the learning curve might not be quite as intuitive as you imagine.  They could spend days stumbling around trying to figure out how to accomplish tasks.

This is when BYOD comes into its own.  There is no learning curve, but more importantly our mobile devices have become so much a part of us that we’re not likely to leave them behind.  The same can’t be said for that “extra” phone that the company “makes” us use.

Smart devices are considered indispensable.

In most cases, outside workers would be crippled without access to their mobile technology.  An individual working in any field becomes far more effective when they have access to appropriate information.

Consider the executive on-the-go who can file an expense report, book a flight, or reserve a hotel room via Smartphone; a lawyer can handle requests much more quickly, or respond to motions without having to leave the courthouse; firefighters can retrieve blueprints for buildings; forest firefighters can retrieve satellite imagery showing incoming weather, burn patterns, and resource location.

When salespeople can call up inventory and production data while visiting a customer, they have a much better chance of closing a sale; when a field technician is troubleshooting a problem, the ability to consult with peers will often result in a one-visit solution instead of repeated service calls.

Nowadays, most commercial delivery trucks are equipped with GPS surveillance technology so that a company can know precisely where their asset is at any given point.  That doesn’t mean anybody actually looks though, unless there is a problem.

If the driver suddenly encounters a traffic problem which means a vital Just in Time (JiT) delivery will be delayed, the driver can contact the office so they can explain the situation to the customer, offering a revised timetable.  The reverse is also true if the delivery schedule must be changed while the driver is en route to a destination.

Smartphones: Good or Bad?

There’s a fundamental dichotomy between the proponents and opponents of mobile devices in the workplace.  In a Harris Poll, conducted in the first quarter of 2016, more than 2,000 hiring managers were surveyed.  20 percent believed that employees are only productive for 5 hours per day or less, and when asked for a cause 55 percent pointed to mobile phones, and cited texting as the culprit.

Conversely, of the 80 percent of employees who have Smartphones, only 10 percent say that it is decreasing their productivity, and almost 70 percent report using it several times a day while working.  Could both parties be correct?  It’s quite possible.

The top “productivity killer” cited was personal messaging, according to 65 percent of respondents.  This is low-hanging fruit for managers.  If an employee is holding a phone and keying something in, it’s fairly easy to assume that they are not doing something business related.

On the other hand, Bob may be asking Jane for advice about a file because she’s not at her desk.  Bob knows she’s somewhere in the building and always has her phone with her.  It’s simply easier and faster.  While 50 percent stated there was no business related material on their phones, that still means 50 percent of them they were using their phones for business purposes.

The next most commonly cited cause (at a stunning 51 percent) was “weather”.  You have to ask yourself just how much time is lost by a glance at the home screen of your phone periodically to see if it’s going to be raining on your drive home.

The third and fourth most cited causes were “news” (44 percent), followed by “games” (24 percent).  While there may be limited arguments to be made for following “news” (in an equally limited number of professions), these two are otherwise inarguable.  Both of these would consume large amounts of time which should be dedicated to work related tasks.

The last five on the list are Traffic, Gossip, Sales, Adult, and Dating at 12, 7, 6, 4, and 3 percent, respectively.  Much of the latter aspects have more of a flavor of “trying to make a list of 10 things” than real practical, useful information.


Seventy-five percent of employers say that “distractions” (not specifically citing mobile devices) cost two hours or more per day in lost productivity.  They suggest that this impacts client relationships, supervisor/employee relationships, and quality of work, resulting in missed deadlines and lost revenue.

To combat this 75 percent have taken actions such as blocking Internet sites, forbidding personal calls on company telephones, as well as personal cell phone use during working hours.  Not all of the solutions have been restrictive, however.

A 2012 government survey pointed to the fact that greater mobility increased productivity, increased responsiveness, sped decision-making, and saved lives.  Consequently the government is now moving to enhance telework because it is an attractive option that allows them to hire highly qualified people from different geographic regions to work remotely.  They don’t need to provide equipment or office space.

Coping with Technology

If mobile technology is truly a hardship for your business, and not merely a scapegoat, then you could behave like some Call Centers that collect and gather all of the employees’ phones as they arrive at work.  They lock them up, and only return them at break time, or the end of the day.  Be warned, however, that productivity could decrease because of this action.  When you treat adults like children, it’s only logical that they may being to behave the same.

If that seems too draconian to you, it is possible to embrace the technology.  You could supply secure Smartphones that are function-restricted to work related tasks, and incapable of visiting Facebook, YouTube, and other distracting sites.  They could even be “sandboxed” so that functions could take place within them that would not affect any external systems.  Anything dangerous would be confined to the single unit.

Being owned by the company, these phones could be constantly monitored for changes.  Automation would make sure that no apps had been downloaded, no new programs installed, or (since users are so clever nowadays) that no additional VPNs (Virtual Private Networking) or tunneling protocols had been installed, which allowed employees to do otherwise prohibited things.

They could be collected every night before employees left the building, and distributed randomly in the morning, and maybe even reset on a daily basis.  You would seldom get the same phone back, so hacking it would be pointless.  Then again, maybe that has too much of a draconian flavor, as well.

Portrait of a happy businesswoman using smartphone in front of colleagues

The Takeaway

Perhaps, the ultimate solution is to simply accept the BYOD philosophy, but include a user agreement, that each employee signs, and which appears as an additional page in the employee handbook.  They agree to the monitoring of the business portion of their phone; they agree to the ability to remotely wipe the business related contents in the event of phone loss; they agree to protect their phone from loss to the best of their ability; they agree not to open unexpected attachments; they agree not to visit web sites outside the purview of the business during office hours.

It might be just that simple!  Every business is unique and you might have to tailor a solution to suit yourself.  A very small Korean study found that when employees were allowed to take brief breaks over the course of the day to send messages to family members and social media they ended up being much happier at the end of the workday.  It may seem counterintuitive, yet these little brief breaks actually enhanced their productivity.  The tracking app used for the study reported average use of approximately 20 to 25 minutes per day, between tasks, with no apparent decrease in productivity. These workers actually showed an overall increase in productivity for the day.

Definitely something to think about…


Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200

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