Ringing in a New Era for Smartphones at Work

In 2019, research indicated that we check our smartphones nearly 100 times daily. This was before the age of COVID-19! Just imagine how frequently you look at your phone now that many of us are operating in a remote world. In my most recent blog, I took quite a critical look at multitasking. Of course, phones are #1 culprits in encouraging us to multitask and stop focusing. That’s why my general advice was to get away from phones at work. There are some issues with that idea, though. Not only is it not feasible for most people to separate work and phones, it may not be wise. In this blog, I’ll cover some ways that phones can actually boost your productivity in the workplace.

Legitimate Arguments Against Limitless Phone Use

Of course, you can’t disagree with the time-honored arguments against regularly descending into the “sinkhole” of your phone. (By the way, that’s not my term. This Forbes article uses it.) As this article from HBR notes, smartphones have downsides at work. They can blur the boundary between work and rest, putting you at serious risk for burnout. They can even decrease your job satisfaction. This article also points out that communicating via smartphone might lead to hasty decisions and responses. You would likely think through your words more carefully at a desk.

This video from the Wall Street Journal is similarly cautious about smartphones in the workplace. Citing Dr. Kostadin Kushlev, a professor of psychology at Georgetown, the video advocates for less phone time. Dr. Kushlev’s study on phone notifications demonstrated that checking your phone frequently can lead to increased stress. Another study he cites found that students on their phones felt less connectedness socially. In a world where collaboration in the workplace is critical, that’s a major concern. But what do we do now, when many of us only connect with coworkers digitally?

Smart Ways that Smartphones Drain Productivity

According to this video produced by Vox, we’re fighting an uphill battle. In the video, Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google and founder of the Center for Humane Technology, explains that smartphones are designed to be addicting. They hook us by providing unpredictable content at random intervals. The option to scroll also encourages us to use phones for extended periods of time. It turns out that we’re better at using visual cues to end a task than we are at just feeling done. Therefore, if you can scroll through a feed infinitely, you’re unlikely to realize that you’re wasting your time until a lot of it has passed.

Fighting Back: Reclaiming Productivity

In that same Vox video, Harris recommends a few ways to limit the dangers of our smartphones at work. For instance, he suggests turning off non-human notifications. Those are the ones generated by apps, like “Check out this new post!” (He’s not talking about notifications that signal new messages from real people.) Harris also advises changing the screen to grayscale, which can make it less visually distracting. Finally, he recommends saving the home screen for apps with simple functionality, like your alarm clock. These are ways each of us can reduce the negative impacts of using our phones for work.

What about organizations? Should they create policies for cell phone use to support employee productivity? This Forbes article notes that some workplaces have gone this route. Company leaders there note that employees become more engaged in meetings without their smartphones. On the other hand, some leaders feel that these kinds of policies can convey distrust. They argue that it’s more valuable to treat employees as adults by encouraging them to set their own limits for smartphone use. One suggested way to do this is by emphasizing accountability for results. Then, employees can make their own decisions about how much they can scroll through social media without jeopardizing their chances of finishing a project on time.

With all that being said, I don’t think an extreme of removing smartphones from the workplace would be the ideal. Instead, I suggest we all learn the ways that we can make our phones work for us.

Strategies for Success

This HBR article notes that phones have unique advantages in the workplace. For instance, they can make it easy to share images with coworkers, especially in the remote work world. That means we can actually boost our productivity, if we can learn to take advantage of the best our smartphones have to offer in the workplace.

This Business Insider article makes several suggestions for ways to maximize our phones’ capabilities. For example, you can use the built in clock app to set timers to pace your work. That can help you use time management strategies like the ones outlined in this post about timing productivity. You can also use the search bar to quickly look up a wide variety of useful information. Another idea from this article is to use visual voicemail features to avoid wasting time listening through a series of voicemail messages. Instead, just scan through the numbers that have left messages and identify the ones you need to hear first. Finally, use apps that sync with desktop versions so that your phone becomes the key to flexibility at work. (Pyrus is one of the apps that does that, but more on this later.)

I also liked this video created by an Australian university student. In it, he describes how he’s made his phone a “productivity machine.” He recommends bringing frequently used apps to the home screen and moving social media apps farther away. He also suggests deleting apps that only drain productivity, like games. In addition, he points out that we can reduce distracting notifications by muting noisy group chats. That’s the same idea as unsubscribing from any emails you don’t need to receive. His whole concept is based on the friction behind our habits, which I wrote about in this earlier post.

How Pyrus Makes Smartphones Springboards

Fortunately, there is productivity software out there that can help you harness your phone for success. It’s called Pyrus. The Pyrus team is constantly working to enhance the ways you work from your phone. As this update from early 2021 describes, Pyrus has a lot of functionality available to mobile users. For Pyrus users, smartphones don’t have to be sinkholes. Instead, they can be springboards to productivity. Check it out here.