Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Smartphone, hindrance to management productivity

Published:Sunday | August 15, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Francis Wade, Guest Writer

The causes of Jamaica's low productivity are easy for most of us to identify. What we don't realise is how much we are adding to Jamaica's productivity problem in the way we use our cellphones and smartphones.

Jamaica has one of the highest cellphone-penetration rates in the world at 116 per cent; higher than the United States' rate at 89 per cent.

Surely, the rapid increase of mobile usage has given us a productivity boost compared to the days when phones were a privilege and it took months to acquire phone service.

Today, however, it is likely that we have eked out the majority of the improvements possible, and are now seeing the downside: productivity losses that are occurring due to bad cellphone habits.

In 2007, I was travelling through New York City's La Guardia airport and saw a man using his BlackBerry, with both hands over his head. What made the situation remarkable was that he was using the urinal at the same time - 'multi-tasking'.

This piece of foreign madness got me calling home within the hour to share the nonsense I had just seen.

Fast-forward to 2010, and as I always do, I shared the story in my local time-management class, to much hilarity.

A few minutes later, I opened the door to the bathroom and found one of my participants - a senior manager - using his BlackBerry while ... . I don't need to finish the story, do I?

I don't have the data to figure out the cost of low hygiene and poor health to anyone who unwittingly borrows a 'germsy' BlackBerry, but I do know that the cost of a single sick day far outweighs the minutes saved.

There are many executives who are using unproductive phone habits, and in most companies it starts at the top.

For example, the chief executive officer who spends the better part of a two-hour meeting on his or her BlackBerry, and scant attention to the discussion, is wasting a lot more of the company's money than the employee who gets a reprimand for coming back from lunch half an hour late.

Here are some other examples of losses in productivity that are new to most companies, but severe. Consider the case of:

The vice-president who crashes the company car while texting his girlfriend on his corporate BlackBerry, running up his company's insurance bill as he misses a week of work to recover;

The executive team that spends months battling for the attention of its members in meetings, and eventually has to ban company-issued BlackBerrys from all meetings, due to team members' inability to control themselves;

The chairman who insists on sending emails to his board at 3 a.m. on his vacation day, and encourages multiple responses before 6 a.m.;

The secretary who cannot finish a single task or a conversation without checking her cellphone for text messages and voicemail messages that she might have missed.

These unproductive habits are just the beginning, because managers, supervisors and employees are quite likely to join in the fun once the company purchases them all smartphones.

The day of 100 per cent usage is inevitable.

If anything, these examples should show executives that the biggest threat to productivity is not the indiscipline of others, but instead, their own habits exercised on a daily basis.

My years of working in the US reinforces this finding. Foreign workers are often more productive only because they teach each other, and reinforce, better habits.

Executives need to do the same, but before they can start teaching, they need to learn how to be productive in the new smartphone era.

Many of the habits they learned in the 1970s to 1990s simply need to be reversed now that they possess game-changing smartphone devices.

For example, email became widespread in the mid-1990s, and it made sense back then to glance at a piece of email once, while saving it for later processing. That simple habit no longer works because the volume of email prevents it from working, which is why some executives have tens of thousands of messages jamming up their inboxes, and why they anger others with their lack of responsiveness.

Today, the new standard is to maintain what is called a 'zero inbox', that is, an empty email inbox, a result which requires an entirely new set of habits and practices.

The stakes have never been higher in the workplace, as it is predictable that the increased number of emails, plus the spread of smartphones, mean that the lax productivity that has been allowed in the boardroom is going to spread to the lunch room, and into the activities ofevery employee.

What used to be a boardroom problemwill becomea company-wide problem.

Executive teams that are takingthe issueseriously aren't playing around with it, to their credit.

They are aggressively refining their habits in keeping with their personal and corporate productivity goals, knowing that the more they change in visible ways, the more likely their employees are to follow suit. They have realised that the more they discipline themselves by removing digital distractions, the more productive they will be.

They understand that their own time-management skills are the ones that others are using as the role models, and that naming the problem as a team is the first step to transforming a bad situation.

To paraphrase Gandhi,they are becoming the first change,in orderto change theircompany's productivity.

Francis Wade is a consultant in Caribbean time management. He offers free online training at