Several companies, including recently Deutsche Bank, have banned their employees from using texting apps such as Facebook's Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp. But using private cellphones at work isn't such a bad thing.
It's difficult to think of life without smartphones. We use them to wake up on time, check the weather forecast, read the news, take pictures and make movies, check emails, and keep in touch with our family, friends and colleagues.
But the devices have also been accused of distracting employees from their work, creating a dilemma both for bosses and the people in their charge.
"It is a foregone conclusion for the majority of personnel managers that using private cellphones at the workplace reduces productivity," Mario Mechtel, Adrian Chadi and Vanessa Mertens wrote in a 2016 study conducted by Leuphana University in Lüneburg that linked smartphone usage to a drop in employee output. "However, they refrain from bans because they could signal mistrust towards their employees, which could have a negative impact on work."
For their study, the researchers used two groups of people. One set was banned from using their mobile phones, and a notice was hung up in their office reminding them of the prohibition. The second group did not get any instructions and assumed it was okay to use their mobile phones while at work.
The scientists found that the productivity of workers who were banned from using their devices was at least 10 percent higher than that of the employees who were not expressly asked to stop using their smartphones in the office. The researchers also found that most employees did not see the ban as a signal of mistrust from their employers.
'Creative' smartphone users
Though some employees don't mind bans, many others are clever enough to find ways around them. Florian, who works for a major German telecommunications firm and did not want his real name or that of his company used, told DW that he is comfortable with his employer's policy against using private cellphones in the office.
"I have an official smartphone given to me by my boss and a private smartphone," Florian said. "The official phone can be used only for official communication: emails, text messages and even internet surfing, but only for official purposes," he added. "I cannot use it for my private needs." His department does not prohibit using private telephones at work specifically, but getting caught sending personal messages can be unpleasant.
Still, Florian checks for new messages on his private phone every once in a while. "I don't look at my phone when I have work to do, but I do check Facebook and WhatsApp. Both my devices look the same, so nobody can make out whether I'm using my official or the private phone," he said. "But sometimes I get caught unawares when I'm using my private phone and my boss asks me a question. Then I need to get creative."
Device-derived workplace happiness
In a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, more than 2,000 adults in the United States were asked about their social media habits. Thirty-four percent said they used social media apps to take mental breaks from work. Twenty-seven percent said they connected with family and friends while in office. Twenty-four percent said they used their phones to further professional contacts.
A good example is Shashank, the director of a global financial advisory firm in New Delhi who also asked that his real name or that of his company not be used. Shashank uses only one device for his personal and official communication. His job as a business consultant means he travels very often, and text messaging and WhatsApp are his preferred modes of communication with clients.
"Once a client wasn't replying to my emails, and I wasn't able to get him on the phone either. But I ended up communicating through WhatsApp," he told DW in a chat over WhatsApp.
Shashank uses his phone for private messaging, too. "I cannot quantify it [the time used for private messaging], because it's often a case of checking your phone, replying and putting it aside," he said. "Sometimes, I have more time, and then I send a longer reply."
Using private phones at work doesn't necessarily make people unproductive, Shashank said: "It's also a nice break from monotony."