I once went an entire week without my cell phone. I was one hour into a 9-hour drive to the mountains with my family when I realized I had left my phone at home. My mom so graciously offered to turn our car around so that I could retrieve it, but the idea of delaying our mountain arrival by a full two hours sounded far worse than losing the opportunity to text my friends or check Facebook. What resulted was a blissful week spent hiking, biking and just spending time with my family.

Fast forward to today and I often feel uncomfortable without my cell phone. I can be without it for a period of time, given that I’m with my husband who has his cell phone and I know that my parents or brother could contact me if needed.

According to Pew Research, 92% of adults ages 18-29 own a smartphone, compared to 88% of those ages 30-49 and 74% of those 50-64 years of age. With each emerging generation, smartphone use increases. Some people get frustrated with the amount of time that young people spend on their phones, assuming they’re less productive as a result. While there is such a thing as smartphone addiction, when kept within reason, mobile devices provide us with amazing capabilities to organize our lives, relay, research and receive information and connect with people.

If you’re one of those individuals who finds smartphone use in the workplace frustrating, we understand your concerns.  But beware that among most Millennials, your requests that they “put away their phones” or “stay off their phones” meet with eye rolls, head shakes and a general feeling that you are “out of touch.”  Because, for many young professionals, their smartphone is:

  • The portal through which we manage our lives. Like a hard-copy “day timer” or binder used to be for so many.  For instance, I use my phone for maintaining my grocery list, my to do list and my calendar.
  • The replacement for the newspaper, where we use it to look up the weather for the week, check the markets and keep up with news.
  • A short-cut for “running errands” like checking bank balances, paying bills online and shopping.
  • A means to keep up with correspondence and stay in touch with others, including enabling us to check work emails while we’re away from our computer and talk to someone and see their face even when we’re not right next to them.

Asking a young person to refrain from using their smartphone is like asking them to start handwriting everything, or asking your firm leaders to return to green sheets. While the people at work understand this, I still feel pressure in other meetings outside my team members and in my personal life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to use my phone to type notes during a meeting, but feeling like it’d be frowned upon, I resorted to the old pen and paper, only to have to type my notes later so I had a digital record. Talk about inefficiency! I am excited for the day when taking notes on your phone is fully acceptable in any meeting.

For as much as is written about smartphone distractions, there’s equal evidence that smartphones improve our performance Bottom line, smartphones improve efficiency and accessibility. If we had to purely rely on desktop phones, we’d have lost a lot of productivity by now. Texting and calling from our cell phones allows us to get an answer and move on with our work more quickly. And be more accessible and responsive.  And access information faster. The smartphone is a tool that helps us work smarter.

If you have to discuss smartphone use, consider these ideas:

  • If you feel a team member spends too much time on their smartphone, instead of trying to stop them from using it, start discussing the results being produced (or lack thereof). When your conversations are focused on the results someone is supposed to produce (the expectations) and the results they are producing (the reality), it allows them to have a clear picture of any expectation gap. Part of empowering people is allowing them to determine how they will produce the results that are expected of them. As long as your team member is meeting or exceeding expectations, then why does it matter if they’re using their phone throughout the day?
  • If a client raises a concern about smartphone usage, consider thanking the client for their feedback and assuring them that the quality, efficiency and timing of their work will not be affected. Then, share that you trust your team members to use their phones in the way that best supports their productivity. On the other hand, the observation may be yours and not your client’s. Unless the person has been streaming YouTube videos all day, and is not meeting their specific responsibilities, let go of worrying about their smartphone use.
  • If the situation is that the person is using their phone in a client, prospect, referral source or team meeting and it seems distracting, share your perceptions with that person after the meeting. Share that others may not view the smartphone use in the same way that you or the individual does. Remind them that “perception is reality” and it’s up to them how they want to be perceived by others. That today, there are still traditionalists who don’t fully get it yet, and that they need to honor those people’s views when the meeting is theirs in the first place.

It’s amazing what our smartphones allow us to do and as their computing power increases, so will their use. While excessive use or reliance have their own negative consequences, the benefits we experience are awesome.  As leaders, we must strive to foster a culture that accepts and supports new methods for computing, relating and communicating – or we risk being perceived as behind the times, which, is not a cultural descriptor that attracts and engages young professionals.

How do you view cell phone use in the workplace? What best practices does your firm employ for professionally managing smartphone use and how are they discussed among your team members? Please share with us in the comments below!

Warm regards,