Smartphones – an office gain or drain?

I wrote last week about the difficulties of disconnecting from technology. When we were in Uluru on our all company trip, we challenged people to put their phones on flight mode and be truly present with the people and experiences around them:

“Increasingly, we observe the more we ‘connect’ — via smartphones and social media — the more disconnected we feel from the world and the experiences of life around us … As humans it is fundamental to our sense of wellbeing to belong; to be part of the community and connect with people. Think about how often are you are truly present and focus.ed on those around you (we are all guilty of not doing it, myself included).”

Putting down the phones was really very hard for most. Which got me thinking: outside the office we’re always a little bit ‘on’, and inside the office we’re always a little bit distracted. All thanks to those little devices we carry around with us all day long.

So how do people stay focused when the very thing that distracts us seems such a necessity for doing business? How do employees learn to resist the urge to check, during work hours, if that Instagram photo they posted has gone viral? And how do employers keep their people focused and productive when the very technology we use to reduce friction and increase productivity can also be a time-sucking distraction? And all without being ‘millennial targeting’ sticks-in-the-mud…

Studies have shown it takes 23 minutes on average to recover and refocus after a distraction at work. And at the same time, it’s been shown that people between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day. I’ll let you do the math.

There is so much research out there on the impact of mobile phones on productivity in the workplace. And it seems to be a double-edged sword to some degree. Sure, some apps make us more productive, but does the cost of lost productivity outweigh the upside?

According to a study by Kelly Services — conducted with 13,000 Australians — more than 80% of Australian workers say mobile communications technology, such as smartphones, has boosted personal productivity and, for many, has transformed their work-life balance. However, 75% of respondents also claimed they are working longer hours as they’re unable to effectively disconnect from the workplace.

On the counter, simply having our mobile devices visible and audible in the office can be a massive productivity drain. The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance found the rate of errors made after simply hearing or feeling an alert on one’s phone was actually about the same as if someone had in fact physically answered the call or message.

But even more concerning is the tendency to make mistakes thanks to that distraction and derailing. The probability of making an error increases by 28% after a phone call and 23% after receiving a text message, according to a 2013 study. One can only imagine that number has increased in the last five years with the further proliferation of technology into our day-to-day lives.

According to Fortune, “the average worker spends a full day of their work week doing things other than, well, work … Personal email and social media made up the majority of the wasted time”. And Forbes goes a step further, referencing the term ‘nomophobia’, which is an actual addiction to mobile phones.

This issue speaks directly to our purpose at my company, the Big Red Group (BRG). To connect, we need to disconnect. When people are focused and purposeful at work, they feel like they’re making a difference to others. At BRG we want to shift the way people experience life, by serving an experience every second somewhere on Earth. But how can we achieve this vision, and live this purpose, if we’re constantly distracted by the very devices that are short-circuiting our ability to truly experience and immerse ourselves in the world around us?

For me, I try to limit the distractions by leaving my phone in my bag when I’m at the office; switching off all notifications and limiting myself to checking social channels before and after work. So it would be entirely hypocritical if I weren’t able to focus my attention, and remove those distractions, during the work day (though sometimes I feel I am ruled by my email).

How do you manage the distraction of your smartphone when you’re focusing on the job at hand?

This article originally appeared on Smartcompany.

Also published on Medium.

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