Software for the finest computer – The Mind


Posted by Tim Bryce on May 14, 2012

– Is it necessary to write a formal policy for use of electronic devices in the workplace?

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A couple of years ago I created somewhat of a ruckus when I wrote an article on “Music in the Workplace.” In it, I suggested there should be restrictions on using personal audio devices in the workplace. This created a bit of a stir particularly with I.T. personnel who staunchly defended the use of their iPods and MP3 players while programming. In the course of the ensuing dialog, I asked what companies, if any, had developed a formal corporate policy regarding the use of such devices. Remarkably, nobody seemed to have one, or if they did, they didn’t want to come forward with it. However, recently I received one from an HR Administrator, perhaps the first of its kind. As this is considered somewhat of a trailblazing effort, the company asked to remain anonymous. All I can tell you is that they represent the North American unit of a global manufacturing company. Nonetheless, here is what they came up with:

“It is critical that employees working in the manufacturing areas remain focused on the tasks at hand and do not have any unnecessary distractions. It is for this reason that our policy on portable personal electronic devices such as cell phones, blackberries, computers, I-pods, CD players, MP3 players, radios, video games and pagers are prohibited in the manufacturing areas.

Company issued cell phones, computers, blackberries and pagers are acceptable as long as they do not create a hazard for the environment.

In non-production areas such as an office, the use of personal portable electronic devices are at the discretion of the manager.

Disciplinary Action

Disciplinary action may be taken against any employee who does not adhere to this policy.”

Frankly, I thought this was well written and quite practical; on the one hand, the company highlights the safety issues involved, and on the other they recognize it might be acceptable in other areas of the business where safety is not an issue. As for me, I might have taken it a step further and added some verbiage whereby such devices should be prohibited from customer service situations where it is necessary to pay attention to the customer. It might also make sense to ban such devices from meeting and training situations. Come to think of it, situations where these devices can be used in the workplace without having an adverse effect on business is becoming rare.

A “BusinessWeek” article (6/23/2008) reported that the amount of time the average U.S. worker loses to interruptions is 28%. This figure pretty much jives with the 70% effectiveness rate figure we have reported over the years (whereby in the average eight hour work day in an office setting, 5.6 hours are spent on direct work, and 2.4 hours are spent on interferences). Frankly, interferences are a natural part of office life (nobody can be 100% effective), but now with these personal electronic devices in play while employees are working, one has to wonder what effect it is having on worker concentration. Some people, particularly programmers (who tend to be somewhat introverted), thrive on such devices. However, these devices can be very distracting to other job functions requiring more extroverted personalities, such as Sales and Customer Service.

So, is a corporate policy on personal electronic devices really necessary? Frankly, I think it would be very irresponsible on management’s part not to have such a policy. It must be remembered that the distraction resulting from these devices can impact three areas:

1. Worker safety.
2. Product/service defects and errors (workmanship).
3. Worker productivity.

If it’s between entertaining the workers and putting the company at risk, I think it’s a no-brainer; the employees can wait until break time to enjoy such devices.

I would like to thank the individual for sharing the above policy with us. It may not be perfect but it’s a good start.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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  1. Tim Bryce said

    An O.B. of Macon, Georgia wrote…

    I have an answer for this too. When you come to work the cell phones and mp3 and Iphones stay in your car,

    My reasoning: If you go to the hospital and are being operated on, would you want the surgeon to be listening to his mp3 or talking on the cell phone, What part of paying attention to your job makes sense to you.

    Not to long ago, I attended a TQS meeting and the question was asked, What percentage of your 8 hours of work do you owe your employer, That brought all kinds of answers from 50% and up. I think I was the only person in the class or 50 that put down 100%. When you accept a job with an employer at a given rate of pay, you owe that employer 100% of your time during the time he is paying you for the job, Any thing else is stealing his money.

    I once wrote an article for our company paper on what is cost the employees for the times of the day they spend talking to other or just not doing their job in some way, I got a lot of feed back on that article both good and bad as I pointed out the actual cost to the workers in terms of pay and benefits. Especially in large companies with lots of employees. Just a few minutes a day by each worker loses thousands of dollars a day. Those are dollars that could translate into longer vacations, more wage increases, and better all around benefits. There are many other cost that are related to cell phone and music, that are as you stated safety stressed, But the name of the game is making your employer money, if you are not, then he does not need you to work for him, Any time you spend away from the job, either physically or mentally while you are being paid is the same as stealing his money, Too bad that does not sink in to our modern day work place.


  2. Tim Bryce said

    A P.M. of Marksville, Louisianna wrote…

    It is funny that you did this article. My husband’s job is now just going through this but all while doing this they have installed big screen TV’s everywhere in their building in places where if you make a mistake you will lose your life, the employees are saying take them out, big dangerous distraction.


  3. Tim Bryce said

    An S.G. of Illinois wrote…

    They were banned altogether except on break by the retail chain where I used to work. People working in the stockroom, overnight stock personnel, and a few sales floor people would still use them from time to time knowing upfront that they would be fired on the spot if caught. The lure of the devices is powerfully strong.

    I have heard complaints from customers about cashiers at other stores talking on their cells while working. Having cashiered for a time, I had a burst of “turnabout is fair play”.


  4. Tim Bryce said

    A J.P. of Toronto, Ontario wrote…

    One of the deeper conundrums related to this matter was first identified decades ago by the noted futurist, Alvin Toffler. Briefly, a combination of rapidly evolving communications technology, deeply shifting societal values related to such concepts as private space and public formality, and entirely new views as to production itself all combine to significantly blur the traditional and once clearly defined difference as between ” being at work and on duty” and “being at leisure on private time.”

    The classic example was the architect, on the beach in Florida, watching his wife and kids swim in the surf, while reviewing and correcting the latest version of his plans for a multi-story skyscraper to be built thousands of miles away in Sydney, Australia. On his satelite phone he was, at the same time, discussing with his business manager, skiing in Switzerland at the time, whether the company should submit a bid for the new Olympics stadium to be built siseven years hence in Beijing? At the same time, on a second machine, he was busy issuing buy-sell instructions to his stockbroker in New York regarding his personal portfolio. (Note how even that has become out-dated, with almost all investiment activity and banking activity, personal or corporate now on-line. Note, as well, how primitive his communications technology is by present standards, only about 25 years later!)

    In this scenario, Toffler asked the question: Is this man “at work” or is he “at play?” Toffler’s own answer was that the two have become so inter-woven and so ad hoc in terms of defined time that the question itself is almost without meaning. The rise of flex time arrangements, productivity measures and rewards without regard to where or when the productivity took place, and the increasing lack of any need for formal, enduring places for work, such as office buildings, contribute to this sense of disassociation or at least very fuzzy boundaries as between the old ideas of “at leisure” and “at work.”

    Even “costumes” for being “in the office at work” and “being on private time at home” are rapidly changing. Formalities of dress, say a jacket and tie, are less signs of rank or function in a large organization than was once the case, and it would appear that “special costume for work” may be on the way out in the not so distant future.


  5. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. or Arizona wrote…

    The large companies I used to work for went back and forth on this over the years to some degree, be it radios to phones, etc. Seems to me there are always those that push the limit on such things forcing companies/management to make and revise such policies.


  6. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    Several friends have told me that they use cell phones and other mobile devices while at work. One friend, who does does data entry, listens to audio books to relieve the monotony of a repetitive task. It has not affected her work, or so she says.

    Another friend works in a jewelry store and is embarrassed by her coworkers’ openly using these devices while customers are waiting. She believes it looks unprofessional and I agree. Coincidentally, she has been #1 in sales for three months in a row and remains unplugged.


  7. Tim Bryce said

    A K.S. of Oklahoma wrote…

    One thing that I have had a BIG PROBLEM with is Mobile Manners (or lack thereof).

    These electronic devices may have taken over both our personal as well as out business lives however there should still be manners & etiquette with using them.


  8. Tim Bryce said

    A P.M. of Palm Harbor, Florida wrote…

    IMHO, if these portable electronic devices are not germaine to the job, then they need to be banned from the workplace. Personally, I think it is rude, crude, unattractive and a disservice to the company to not be focused on the job.I have seen students in classrooms with their “electronic devices” paying a lot less attention to the professor than what they pay to the device. In the classroom as an educator, I would not be very tolerant of this kind of rudeness.The student would be asked to leave my class if they cannot give up their addiction to the “device”. You see, these young people then translate this rude behavior into the workplace from the classroom.. Go figure.


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