Unplug, Or Else: Embracing a "Digital Diet"

By Jessica Binns, Contributing Editor — January 03, 2013

The technology pendulum might be swinging in the other direction.

While most companies still are keen to have their employees connected 24/7 via phones and tablets, The New York Times reports that some corporations are implementing policies to encourage workers to step away from their smartphones. Think of it as a "digital diet," MIT professor Sherry Turkle tells the Times.

The benefits of the constant connectivity enabled by the mobile revolution have been well documented — improved client service, real-time status updates and decision making, to name a few — but there are some drawbacks to being a slave to the smartphone. Now some enterprises are rethinking their mobile policies, with an eye toward boosting productivity and promoting a healthy work-life balance.

Sam Chapman, CEO of Chicago's Empower Public Relations, says that after acknowledging his smartphone addiction and its detrimental effect on his sleeping habits, he instituted a company-wide "BlackBerry blackout," according to the Times. Now employees turn off their devices from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the workweek and abandon them completely on weekends.

People are growing increasingly dependent on their smartphones, with 40% of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey confessing to checking their mobile while on the toilet. And 54% of those who participated in a Lookout Mobile Security study said they "check their phones while lying in bed: before they go to sleep, after they wake up, even in the middle of the night." It's this kind of compulsive behavior that is prompting some companies to make meaningful changes.

What's more, being a slave to your smartphone might actually be a drain on productivity, the exact opposite of what constant connectivity intends to accomplish. Without time to disconnect, employees might not being doing their best work if they snap to attention at every chime of their mobile.

And while having a corporate-issued smartphone a few years ago indicated an employee's status and importance within the company, the ubiquity of mobile phones today means that just about every knowledge worker has a smartphone that's used for work purposes (whether supplied by the business or BYOD) — and some professionals see the mobile as a symbol of the enterprise's access to and control over their time and lives. Businesses that institute mobile blackout policies might see intangible gains in loyalty and morale, as employees feel their time and contributions are more valued by the firm.

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