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The Future Workplace: Realistic Mobile Device Policies

  • Published
  • 29 April 2021
  • Category
  • General

This is the third part of a periodic series on The Future Workplace.

Employers and workers depend on technology to stay connected and thrive in the global marketplace. This dependence highlights the need for realistic, forward-thinking company policies on the use of smartphones and other hand-held devices.

Ubiquitous Devices

The Pew Research Center reports that an estimated 97 percent of Americans own some type of cell phone; smartphone use increased from 35 to 85 percent in the past 10 years. About 75 percent of U.S. adults own a desktop or laptop computer and roughly half own a tablet computer.

Pew surveys also show 15 percent of American adults are smartphone-only internet users and do not have home broadband service. Reliance on smartphones for online access is especially common among younger adults, lower-income Americans and those with a high school education or less – populations that have been shown to have a higher-than-average risk for work-related injuries, partly due to the nature of work they often do.

Adaptation Required

With most employees using mobile phones – and many of them seemingly addicted to their features – employers need a written policy that explains why and when use is allowed or prohibited. The policy should establish accountability and help shape safe work practices. Consequences for non-compliance should be clearly stated. Here are some issues to consider in the context of occupational health and safety:

  • Ensuring privacy and security for organizations and people
  • Monitoring time spent on devices to enhance productivity and limit distractions
  • Using apps for time-of-need safety training and/or health coaching
  • Accessing devices while driving or operating equipment
  • Receiving company announcements and other news
  • Staying connected in emergency situations or when working alone
  • Allowing employees to disconnect and get needed “downtime”

Recommendations reminds us that there are four basic reasons for having a mobile device policy: safety, customer service, productivity and security. Many employees use mobile phones for work-related tasks. In some instances, the company may reimburse employees who use personal devices for business reasons.

Employees should be expected to practice common courtesy, such as silencing phones during meetings and limiting personal use to break times or for urgent matters. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says personal use of a company-owned or personal cell phone should be limited while working. Other recommendations include:

  • Requiring employees to follow applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations. Employees may be held personally liable for incidents related to the use of devices while driving.
  • Expecting employees with  company-owned cell phones to protect equipment from loss, damage or theft; an employee may be asked to produce a mobile phone for return or inspection at any time.
  • Requesting permission from management to use a camera, video or audio recording capabilities while on company premises.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) offers these suggestions for companies that employ drivers:

  • Prohibit texting while driving and label vehicles as text-free zones
  • Do not have work procedures or duties that require texting while driving
  • Require drivers to stop in a safe place while on the phone
  • Remove incentives or systems that encourage cell phone use while driving

In high-hazard environments with safety-sensitive positions, a uniform policy focused on decreasing distractions that lead to accidents is appropriate. However, a less restrictive policy may be suitable for office staff or a sales team that travels. A reasonable, enforceable policy ultimately depends on the needs of the company, its employees, and the types of jobs they do now and will be expected to do in the future.

Here are some additional helpful resources: