As of 2019, 96% of American workers own some sort of cell phone, making it highly likely that every employee in your workplace brings a mobile phone to work every day. Cell phones have become an extension of ourselves; through a single device, we constantly stay connected to our friends and family and carry around our planners, calculators, flashlights — our lives, in many ways — in our pockets. 

Modern cell phones have changed the way we work. We can use them to instant message a coworker, conduct competitor research, reference HR resources, and even communicate with clients. Has your company cell phones policy been updated to reflect the way cell phones are used these days? Chances are, if you’re completely restricting cell phone usage in the workplace, your phone policy needs to be dusted off and overhauled. 

If this is the case for your company, don’t worry — we’re here to show you how to update and implement an effective cell phone policy at work

Mobile Phone Bans Are No Longer Realistic

Banning cell phones on work property or completely restricting cell phone use at work is no longer realistic for the modern workplace. Not only are people’s smartphones used as a wallet, a watch, and a calculator — they also contain work applications. Some employees use them for scheduling their day, scanning documents, researching, taking notes, listening to music to boost productivity, and even communicating with clients. For this reason, some companies have even begun to provide cell phones for work-related use. 

Admittedly, there are many ways that smartphones can become distracting at work with all the games and social networking apps, but it’s not usually effective to implement strict policies for cell phones in the workplace. When such practices are implemented, this kind of micromanagement of employee cell phone use may have an adverse impact on employee loyalty and company culture.

Productivity and Cell Phones

Surveys have shown that more than half of employers THINK cell phones are the biggest detriment to productivity, but in actuality, work computers with an internet connection have proven to be just as distracting, according to Career Builder. In their 2017 research, employers reported that gossip among coworkers takes up nearly the same amount of an employee’s day as social media, and snack breaks aren’t far behind!  

One study even demonstrated that cell phones boosted productivity by 34%, as some people used them during their break time to help their mental health — perhaps by playing a game to blow off steam, or touching base with a spouse. The employee can then return to their work duties recharged and ready to hit the ground running.

The sweet spot may be allowing employees to have their cell phones and to use them in some capacity, but you’ll need to identify exactly how cell phones should and shouldn’t be used while at work in your company’s cell phone policies. (More on this below.)

Security Concerns and Cell Phones

When employees work with sensitive information or have access to materials that should be kept private for whatever reason, cell phones increase the risk of security breaches. Restricting cell phone use, for this reason, may not be the best approach, however. Remember that employees are already being trusted with the information or goods and simply make it clear that it’s not okay to take pictures or share certain aspects of work in a public way.

Trust and Employee Relationships

When employees are trusted to make choices regarding their phone use at work, it can promote better relationships and an overall culture of acceptance. Giving employees a little freedom can improve job satisfaction and loyalty while also allowing employees to work in the way that best suits them. A little respect can go a long way.

What Smart Phone Policies Should Look Like

On the matter of cell phone use at work, Nancy Flynn, the Director of the ePolicy Institute of Columbus, Ohio, said, “I definitely think that employers need to be sensitive to the fact that cell phone use is now the primary way we communicate, but you want to have a policy in place to protect your organization’s assets and reputation.”

Instead of strictly policing cell phone use, it may be more effective to create smart policies regarding their use. An effective company phone policy would give employees the freedom to take a personal call or look something up, while deterring them from burning through company hours on Instagram.

If you’re not sure what a smartphone policy should look like, take a moment to think about your vision for the workplace and how a new phone policy can help your company achieve that vision. Express to your employees what your expectations are regarding their cell phone usage in clear, unambiguous writing so there are no gray areas left up to the interpretation of the individual. 

Here are a few examples of what your smartphone policy could look like, items it could include, and the specific language that should be used in writing it:

  • No viewing or sharing of potentially offensive pictures, text, or videos while at work
  • Cell phone use prohibited while operating company vehicles or heavy equipment
  • Passwords must be used appropriately when accessing company-related data
  • Use discretion when taking personal calls or viewing personal messages
  • Never share sensitive or proprietary information, especially through images or video
  • Specific consequences for specific violations regarding cell phone use
  • Clear communication and consistently in sharing and enforcing cell phone policies

How to Create a Cell Phone Policy for the Workplace

When beginning to draft a cell phone policy, managers, IT heads, HR personnel, and lawyers (in regulated industries) should all put their heads together and create a mobile phone policy that addresses the specific needs of the workplace in question. It can be as brief or as detailed as you want it to be; cell phone policies will look different based on the industry, but we’ve provided you with some general direction for constructing your own policy. 

Ask Yourself Questions to Guide Your New Policy

Asking yourself about your workplace’s most common hurdles to productivity and morale can guide you as you decide what guidelines to put in place. For example: 

  • Is it too noisy on company property? 
  • Are employees not engaging with each other enough because of cell phone usage? 
  • To what extent do your employees need to use their phones?
  • What guidelines are reasonable to impose upon them? 

Industries like publishing and marketing that communicate heavily with people outside of their organization, for example, will probably have more lenient phone policies than those in other industries.

Include Phone Etiquette Guidelines for Your Workplace

Phone etiquette will be a little different for various job positions, but in general, it’s good to remind employees of basic courtesies regarding phone usage in the workplace, such as:

  • Keeping cell phones on vibrate when possible
  • Leaving phones behind for important meetings
  • Allowing phone calls to go to voicemail during peak productive hours
  • Speaking at low volume and avoiding speakerphone when using the phone near others

Set Specific Limits on Phone Usage

Most workplaces, such as retail, need to limit phone usage to some degree for the sake of productivity. When you do, set specific times and places for cell phone use. For example, mention in your phone policy exactly when calls and texts are appropriate and include a duration limit. If you feel that it’s necessary, you can also list exceptions to the rules and who to speak to about them. 

Include Safety and Liability Guidelines

Cell phone use at work can have an adverse effect on other employees. Say, for example, an employee took a selfie with someone on his team and posted it on the company’s social media page. What he didn’t realize is that the woman he caught in the background of his photo did not consent to be photographed or to have her picture posted. This can create a liability for the company, so be sure to enumerate guidelines for cell phone capabilities such as camera use and microphone recording in public.

Enforce the Policy Equally and Consistently

One of the keys to an effective cell phone policy at work is equal and consistent enforcement. Keep your phone policy current and hold regular training on it so that it’s always fresh in the company’s mind. Consider having employees review it and sign it annually to indicate their understanding and agreement to comply with any changes in terms. Explain any disciplinary action that will be taken for breaking the rules of the policy, and apply these measures equally and fairly to all employees.