Out of the classroom and into the rest of the world
My September blog on the use of mobile technology in the classroom has sparked interesting conversations. Colleagues in academia, the nonprofit community and the for-profit world were surprised by the following statistics (“Cell phone use and concentration during class”, 2010 University of New Hampshire):
- 50% of students use phones in class.
- 70% check their cell phones 3-10 times during class.
- 26% admit cheating using mobile technology
- College students AGREE with that cell phone use in class affects their concentration and/or decreases the amount of information they receive.
However, cell phones and other mobile technologies are not just prevalent on college campuses. Everywhere you look droves of people across a wide range of demographics are engaged with their cell phones, laptops, and tablets. Talking, texting and web surfing happens while dining in restaurants, patronizing movie theaters (while watching movies!), at sporting events, on subways and buses, walking, shopping, and even while working–or supposedly working. Although there was general agreement about the challenges of cell phone use by college students, one question remained unanswered: What is the impact of mobile technology on the rest of us?
The research confirms what we know intuitively: As observers, we are annoyed by people using technology in public places (Banjo, Yifeng, and Sundar, S., 2008). Seeing people who are seemingly more engaged with their cell phones and iPads than with their immediate surroundings causes us to develop a negative attitude toward them—and for good reason. Cell phone users do not use as many helpful social cues, like smiling, and are therefore perceived as less friendly. Moreover, using a cell phone makes us less aware of the needs of others around us, and we are less likely to offer help if help is needed. Imagine the implication for businesses. Whether employees are taking legitimate, work-related calls or checking their Facebook statuses your customers may perceive them as rude or incompetent. Worse, the perception of poor customer service may be accurate, as your employee will be less likely to help even if your customers clearly are in need of assistance.
The portability of technology seems to have an additional negative impact on business. At routine work group meetings, professional conferences, and in places of businesses in every industry, we behave as if we believe we can engage our mobile technology and also pay attention to the work at hand. How often have you lead an important meeting and noticed that your colleagues were answering email or texting? At a recent regional conference, I noticed only a small percentage of attendees were not emailing, texting or surfing a website while the presenters had the stage. (It is not difficult to tell the difference between note-taking and texting/emailing/watching YouTube. Ask any college professor.) As above, the research suggests that the presenters or meeting chairs likely experienced the workshop attendees as rude. But perhaps more importantly for business is the research supported fact that, despite our best intentions, human beings do not multitask well. Our productivity declines and accuracy wanes when we attempt to do several tasks simultaneously, especially when those tasks are unrelated.
The implications for management are simple. While technology can give your business a competitive advantage, the (over-)use of mobile technology can undermine it. As managers, help your employees understand why use of cell phones in the workplace has a negative impact on customer service. Have a clear policy in place to limit the use mobile technology at work and enforce it. Remember what it is like to teach while your students text or hold a meeting while your colleagues answer email.
Be a good role model. Exhibit the behavior you’d like to see. Tweet about the workshop when it ends. Turn off your phones while you are in a staff meeting. And finally be as honest with yourselves as the college students in the aforementioned survey–Recognize that use of mobile technology may be limiting your performance.