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Managing Smartphone Addicts: 4 Ways to Oversee the Mobile Workforce

Cornerstone Editors

Face it: we're all glued to our smartphones and tablets. Whether that's a productivity booster or drainer is up for debate, but our mobile devices have certainly changed how and where we communicate: 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 -- yikes -- sleep with their phone close at hand.

Walk into any company meeting and a slew of employees are scrolling their screens. Are they playing Words With Friends or working on a Word document? Are they even listening to the meeting at all? These questions are apt to put a thorn in the side of any manager conducting a meeting or leading a presentation.

Psychologists recommend setting guidelines to combat the issue, while human resource professionals suggest encouraging more face-to-face interactions. There's another side to it, as well: mobile usage isn't a bad thing by any means -- it surely gives workers more flexibility, streamlines processes (thanks to a whole host of new apps) and adds an element of accountability to the job. The trick is encouraging the right usage and behavior. Here are some tips on how to manage the new mobile worker to make the most of mobility -- and productivity.

Establish Policies and Guidelines

To start, companies should set clear guidelines on what is considered acceptable and unacceptable mobile device usage in the workplace. Make sure your team has read through and understands your policy. And the policy shouldn't be a one-and-done implementation. Have re-trainings to reinforce the rules, change the rules when necessary -- the mobile landscape is always evolving.

Set "Technology Free" Time

Today's workers are increasingly replacing face-to-face time with email and instant messaging. While this may serve a purpose in some instances, remember the value of human interaction -- productivity can actually increase. Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at Cal State Dominguez Hills and author of iDisorder, suggests establishing "technology breaks" in the office where people can focus on getting good work done without checking their phone every five minutes. His idea for meetings:

"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."

Implement Realistic Goals

On the other hand, going full board and trying to implement a cell phone-free day in the office may not go over as well. In fact, it would likely just encourage workers to skirt the rules by going into the bathroom to check text messages or sneak out to turn on their phones. Start with smaller goals to manage behavior.

"If people's lives come out of balance for too long, they're going to burn out," clinical psychologist Elizabeth Waterman told the Tribune. "Employers can educate employees about what a work-life balance is, how they can attain it, what the signs are that they may be slipping out of balance and how to correct that."

Trust Your Team

Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow wrote a book about best practices for mobile in the workplace called Sleeping with Your Smartphone. In the book, Perlow followed a group of workers as they practiced powering down for a certain amount of time each day. The anxiety around the power-down was less about getting to the next level in Angry Birds and more about who was going to get the work done without them. Surprise: the work got done, people were happy to cover for each other and everyone lived happily ever after. Well, not really, but the workplace was a happier environment and the workers were thankful they had the opportunity to try and do things a little differently.

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