Do Smartphones at Work Do More Harm or Good?
- Date: Friday 20th September 2019
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Whether viewed as an employee perk or mental health hazard, personal work phones have quickly become a defining feature of the modern workplace. Of course, it didn’t always used to be this way. Our perception of phones was entirely different only a decade or so ago. Back then, we treated them as an accessory used to serve a specific purpose, like a watch or wallet. We’d only take our phones out to make a call, arrange a lift or find out why someone was late. Even the most advanced models – such as the classic corporate BlackBerry – were limited to basic email access on the go.
Mobile technology and Internet connectivity have evolved rapidly since then, changing the face of work and society as we know it. We now use mobile devices incessantly, whether calling, texting, reading emails, sharing files, scanning news stories or browsing social media. For many, phones are no longer just another accessory; they have become the centre of our personal universe.
Usage in the average office is just as prevalent. A recent study led by Deloitte found that 66% of workers now use smartphones for work purposes every single day. This has serious consequences for employers looking to maximise performance and productivity on a day-to-day basis – and ultimately whether providing personal work phones will create more benefit than harm.
Enabling flexibility in a digital world
Whether it’s a small start-up looking to improve mobility or a multinational corporation rolling out a company-wide benefit initiative, work phones often have a positive impact for businesses looking to maximise communication, productivity and performance.
“Technology is key in building a flexible workforce,” says Ann Pickering, Chief HR Officer and Chief of Staff at O2 UK. “Providing employees with their own mobile phone enables them to stay productive when they are out of the office or in transit. It allows staff to access emails and documents safely and securely. They can also host or join virtual conference calls. Businesses must always look for ways in which innovative technology can help boost productivity and flexible working for both our employees and customers.
“As a mobile-led organisation, anybody at O2 that needs a phone for business use are given their own mobile phone. They can also use this for personal use, or as a separate work phone. We understand that our employees work differently; some prefer to have just one phone, especially if they spend a lot of time travelling around the country visiting stores for example, while others choose to work and personal life.”
Strengthening data security
We live and work in a world where confidential information is under constant threat from hackers and scammers. Now that most modern companies are transferring the entire contents of their filing system into the Cloud, it’s essential to protect every possible entry point in their digital infrastructure.
One of the main benefits in issuing each employee their own work phone is the greater likelihood that everyone will be using the same versions of hardware and software when accessing protected documents. Phones provided as company property can be more easily regulated compared with employees’ own personal phones. Employers can then strengthen their approach to data security even further by updating employment contracts and acceptable use policy to cover data ownership and user responsibility.
Are employees becoming overconnected?
Employers must also be wary of the impact on mental health and wellbeing that being over-connected can cause. Staff that are granted personal work phones are certainly more likely to stay glued to a screen for longer than those without. In fact, it’s the first thing that many people do in the morning, and the last at night.
The Deloitte study confirms this. Their research revealed that 34% of people look at their smartphones within five minutes of waking, and over half (55%) do so within a quarter of an hour. At the end of the day, more than three-quarters (79%) use their smartphones just before they go to sleep.
Dan Adams, UK Lead Partner for Telecoms at Deloitte, argues that we’re only just switching onto the potential dangers involved with the overuse of personal devices: “The smartphone’s attractiveness lies in the fact that it is the definitive multi-purpose consumer device: a digital Swiss Army knife with a set of tools that is millions of apps deep.
“With every year the smartphone is becoming easier and more enticing to use. The question is: are we at the point at which smartphones have become almost too good for people to cope with, and if so, what remedies might be required? Interestingly, the steps that people are taking to control smartphone usage have a common theme: removing temptation.”
Getting company policy right
Company policy and managerial behaviour must evolve to protect against the overuse of smartphones. It’s down to business owners and managers to lead by example and explain the reasons why downtime is crucial for individual health and performance. Those that send non-urgent work emails at midnight, for example, are setting a potentially toxic example for staff to follow.
That said, the benefits of greater mobility, productivity and IT security that personal work phones afford are arguably enough for any company to consider issuing them as a standard company benefit. Properly managed, these devices are much more than just a nice company perk; they’re a necessity for businesses looking to maximise operations – both inside and outside of the office.
Source: SHP Online