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Phone etiquette: Should smartphones be banned at the office?

(Photo by rawpixel / unsplash)

According to the Wall Street Journal, the average person interacts with their smartphone 2,617 times a day, a total of about 2.5 hours. They also reported a survey done by Careerbuilder that says cell phones are the leading productivity killers in the workplace.

So let’s cut to Boca Raton, Florida, where CEO Jason Brown was giving a presentation to his colleagues at Brown, Parker & DeMarinis Advertising.

“I looked up from my notes, from my computer, making eye contact with my team, and all I saw was everybody clicking, typing on their phones,” Brown said. “Their heads were buried in them. I really was put off by this. I called my number two at the company, the executive vice president, right after the meeting and I tore into her and said, ‘If somebody shows up to a meeting again with me, with a phone, that will be the last meeting they’re at.'”

“That’s was not a moment I’m proud of, and in hindsight, it’s not how I’d like to have handled it,” he said.

But the message was clear: when Brown is talking, stay off your phone. But his smartphone ban didn’t last for long.

“The truth is that I started missing my phone in meetings,” Brown admitted. “Myself, even the number two at the company, we started cheating. We started taking our phones out of our pockets and putting them underneath the table. There’s nothing worse than a hypocrite, right? So I started easing up on the rules. It just became understood at the office, it’s not going to be this hard and fast rule that everybody’s losing their jobs if they take their phone out. It’s going to be a little bit more nuanced.”

People might be messaging friends and family instead of working, but he recognizes that they deserve that break. That coming down with an iron fist doesn’t improve any work environment.

“I also thought about the other part of it, which was: our clients expect us to respond to them pretty much 24/7, within some reasonable parameters,” Brown said. “In order to deliver on that, we’re expecting people to be connected all the time. For them to say they have to be disconnected throughout the day, or they can’t take care of some personal business, or even just escape at certain times, I think was really the wrong message to send to people. Because we do expect them to be connected even when they go home at night and a client calls. So in light of all of all of that, we developed a general understanding throughout the company that matched our DNA better.”

Phone etiquette

Here’s what they came up with:

“First of all, we try not to have as many meetings to begin with,” Brown said. “Second, if you’re going to be in a meeting you should be engaged. Third, it’s okay to bring your phone, keep it face down. If you’re expecting a call from a client or a friend or a loved one, just step out. You can take it, it’s not the end of the world, and there are no ramifications. It is working for us, I will tell you!”

Brown also realized they were punishing the wrong people.

“We originally thought this was a millennial issue and quickly we found out it was all of us. We felt it was probably the younger employees, but I think they were blamed unfairly, really.”

Brown says it’s something he continues to struggle with: how to stay connected, digitally, while still being in the moment and connecting with the people around him.

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