I can just about remember what life was like before mobile phones. I had my first mobile phone at around fourteen or fifteen years old, I think. So I’ve never known adulthood without a mobile phone. These devices have transitioned from clunky machines that were used to send short texts or make even shorter calls, to powerful computers that allow us to complete a huge variety of tasks. I remember being at school, amazed that a classmate only had to pay five pence per text message. Most of us had to pay ten pence, or even twelve pence per message back then. For a brief time, text speak was a vital money saving technique.
As mobile devices developed, I would argue it’s not too outlandish a claim to say they’ve changed how we live our lives. My mobile is my constant companion. I use it as a games console, calculator, camera, to write notes on, to listen to audiobooks, to read ebooks and occasionally to communicate with other people. It’s somewhat strange that these devices are still called phones when the vast majority of their use comes from everything but making and receiving phone calls. In fact, I am irritated when my phone vibrates with a call unless it displays one of very few names in the caller ID.
I’ve been thinking lately about public attitudes towards mobile phones. I was in a café recently that has a mobile phone ban. You can use your device to take photos of the food, or send a message. I was able to use it to pay the bill via Apple Pay with no issues. The ban is for talking on your phone. I fully support that ban. I had to take three calls during lunch at the café, but each time I excused myself from the table and went outside. I respected the ban and the reasons for it; to create a pleasant dining experience in an upmarket location. The other diners paid to have a quiet lunch and not hear me trying to rearrange appointments.
In public places there is, by and large, socially accepted norms when it comes to using a mobile phone. The main place the mobile phone seems to cause problems is in the work setting. A discussion came up on a message board about the use of mobile phones at work, and whether employers have a ban and whether employees actually abide by the ban. Now We Live ran a brief poll on Twitter to get some data to work with, and although there was only a small completion rate, the results below are pretty clear.
Quote from message board discussion.
The fact is, the world has changed and mobile phones are an important part of someone’s life. I get the impression that when an employer tries to ban mobile phones, they are tackling the right issue in completely the wrong way.
There are two common reasons given by employers for banning mobile phones; to maintain employee performance, or for data and information security.
If an employee is not performing up to the required standard, this is either down to will or skill. The employee either has insufficient training to complete the role or lacks the mentality to want to work effectively. The lack of will can be a long-term issue, and we’ve all worked with people who are just lazy or inconsiderate. Alternatively, it could be a short-term issue; one of low morale or poor mental health.
Another example from the discussion boards.
There is a seemingly endless range of jobs that make up our society. Some jobs require constant attention. For example a bus driver would not really be able to use their mobile phone as they are driving. A retail worker may also struggle to find an acceptable reason to be browsing their Twitter feed on the shop floor. In retail, there is always something to do, as I remember from years working in that area. There are other jobs, however, where the use of a mobile phone is just not that big of a deal. It can even help keep the mind active in times of reduced workloads. A quick glance at a Facebook notification or message can perk you up after a dull hour or two staring at spreadsheets. It is a micro-break.
If someone is not performing up to the required standard then taking their mobile phone will only stop them from using their phone. It will not suddenly make them want to perform better. It will not solve the underlying issue. In the short-term, perhaps it may improve performance out of fear, anxiety or out of boredom when the colleague has nothing else to occupy their attention. But what of the medium to long-term impact? Instead of using their mobile phone this person may; read, doodle, talk to other employees, call in sick, use the company computer to browse the internet or one of range of things that distract their attention. The mobile phone use is a symptom of another condition and you don’t cure the condition by just treating the symptom. This is the difference between organisations with a positive culture and those that have a negative culture, just as there is a difference between the carrot and the stick.
I think there are reasonably valid concerns for some businesses relating to information security. Some businesses will have extremely sensitive information that cannot leave the premises. Other businesses are not in possession of such sensitive data. In this situation, it is very much a judgement call on behalf of the senior management of the business. However, if information security is given as the reason for banning mobile phones then it leaves no room for exceptions to that ban. If one employee is in the work space and sees another, perhaps more senior, colleague using their own mobile phone, then how can information security be a justifiable reason for banning mobile phones? The implication here is that the business views the employee as untrustworthy and lacking the same qualities of human decency as the more senior colleague.
Information security also ignores other methods by which information can leak from a business. I remember reading an article about how some innovative students would sneak notes into exams at university. I never did this myself; I have some degree of professional pride and believe strongly in academic integrity. However, some of the methods were very well thought out and included writing on one’s own arms and wearing a loose-fitting long-sleeve shirt that could be rolled up in a bathroom break. I recall one example where a student peeled the label off a bottle of water, and wrote notes on the inside of the label before sticking it back on the bottle. This meant the student could read the notes through the plastic. I also remember an example where a student carved mathematical formulas into a pencil shaft so they could refer to them as they wrote. The point is, if the employee is inherently untrustworthy they will find a way to obtain confidential information. Even if you take away all materials, there is still the human memory which is capable of retaining incredible amounts of data in the short to medium-term. How else do stage actors learn vast quantities of script? How can memory champions (there is such a thing) memorise the order of a complete deck of cards? It is not that difficult to memorise information.
Quote taken from: www.peoplehr.com/blog/index.php/2018/04/18/should-hr-be-more-relaxed-about-mobile-phones-at-work/
It is not the phone that is the risk. It’s the person. Hire the right people, and the risks are greatly reduced. Treat people like responsible and trusted adults, and most people will respond in kind. Although there are some employers that have a more relaxed and, arguably, progressive attitude towards the use of mobile phones at work there are still many employers who stick to outdated, illogical and draconian policies.
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Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.