Workplace Mobility: How Much Is Too Much?
The average American between the ages of 18 and 29 sends 89 text messages a day. Three-quarters of workers say they use their cell phone in the bathroom. And 68 percent of people sleep with with their phone close at hand, if not literally in hand (giving rise to contraptions like this).
While these modern tools certainly help make many workers more productive than ever, some experts say there’s a downside to that level of super-connectivity: Smartphones and tablets are replacing in-person interactions. If you are actually in an in-person meeting you’re constantly being interrupted and distracted by email, text messages and IM. It’s come to the point where many people feel anxiety if they can’t check their phone every few minutes.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at Cal State Dominguez Hills and author of iDisorder. “On one hand I’m available 24/7, 365 days a year. And on the other hand, I now feel the need to check [my phone] all the time. I used to have a work phone and a personal phone, but people pretty quickly started doing personal stuff on their work phone [or visa-versa], and that wasn’t stoppable. It just shows how strong that anxiety is.”
The concern for businesses: While today’s mobile tools certainly open up new work possibilities, they also come chalk-full of potentially distracting temptations — from texting to Twitter and Angry Birds — that can stand in the way of productive work. “It beckons to you,” Rosen says. “It goes Look at me! It beeps and flashes and does everything it can to distract you.”
Taking ‘Technology Breaks’
Walk into any company meeting and half the attendees are most likely checking their phones or laptops while someone is talking — and presumably trying to make eye contact. How can managers handle mobile-crazy employees and retain full attention these days? Rosen says that managers need to find ways to accommodate, but also control, employees’ mobile-phone impulses. He suggests taking “technology breaks.”
“During a long meeting, give workers a chance every 20 or 30 minutes to check their phones,” Rosen suggests. “Then they need to be on silent, and upside down on the desk, screen down. Eventually you can start spacing those breaks out, from every 20 minutes to 30 minutes to 40, and so on.”
Human vs. Instant Messaging
Today’s generation of mobile natives is reshaping basic office communication, says Dr. Kimberly Young, founder and director of the Center for Internet Addiction and a professor at St. Bonaventure University. Young described an office she was asked to consult where a team of engineers insisted on tele-commuting and holding all their meetings online. “These engineers had no social skills,” Young says.
“The HR director didn’t want them to meet online. These were really bright people, but they were really hard to get in a room together. They spend less time in team activities, they’re not able to handle conflict or make eye contact. Everything’s texting and emailing — and sometimes you really do need to meet for certain things.”
Both Rosen and Young say the key is to find a balance between embracing technology and staying grounded in the present: ”You can’t be carrying this thing around like an appendage on your ear,” Young says. “You have to make boundaries for yourself. Just because you can check something doesn’t mean you should. It’s a techno-stress we don’t need in our lives.
Image via TeenageTextingAddiction.