Why smartphone culture reduces productivity

Harvard Business Review Press

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Your smartphone, with its pervasive email and texting capabilities, has made you available 24/7. Quite literally, anytime you're not actively sleeping, your manager, employees, clients, and partners can and do reach you. Popular wisdom says that this makes you more agile and your company more responsive. But is that what is actually happening? Is your business better or worse off for your all-encompassing connectivity? The Harvard Business Review contends that productivity is moving in the wrong direction.

In the forthcoming book, "Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work," Leslie Perlow makes the argument that productivity and effectiveness decline when you're never truly "away" from the office.

There's some data to back this up. When Perlow conducted some experiments into job satisfaction, 78 percent of the subjects were satisfied with their jobs when they were instructed to disconnect from work in the evening; 49 percent of those who kept checking and replying to email via the phone felt the same.

And it gets worse: customer satisfaction is lower as well. Ndubuisi Ekekwe, founder of the non-profit African Institute of Technology, relays an anecdote about how his organization decided to make the staff available 24/7 through smartphones. After six months, customer complaints were up, not down.

That makes some sense, if you consider the possibility that staff responded too quickly to issues, when they were tired and stressed. Without ever getting a chance to think through problems and find better solutions, they reacted to issues with the first resolution that came to mind, which is rarely the best.

In my own organization, we have a policy that managers should not send mail after business hours. The idea is that seeing email arrive at midnight sends the wrong message to employees that work/life balance isn't a priority, and, worse, that employees are expected to do the same in order to be perceived as team players. I've personally noted that morale and productivity seem to rise and fall over time as that particular policy is respected, neglected, and then re-enforced.

What are your own experiences with the always-connected corporate culture? Sound off in the comments.