Are Smart Homes Distracting Your Employees?

John Boitnott

The home of the future is here. Almost every type of appliance can be controlled by a consumer’s smartphone, from doorbells to thermostats to toasters. Shoppers can look inside their refrigerator while standing at the grocery store, or unlock their front door while on vacation. And then there are the many security camera options that are available at home and at daycare centers.

For businesses, all this connectivity can be a problem, even if it does let you conduct business from your phone. Employers need to know that they have their workers’ complete focus, whether they’re in the office or interacting with clients. If workers’ smartphones are going off every time a delivery person rings their doorbell, distraction can be a serious productivity drain.

Here are a few things you can do if you find your employees’ smart homes are interrupting too often during the workday.

Set a policy

The first step toward doing something about workplace distractions is to have a policy in place that helps you address them. Smart home distractions will likely fall under mobile device use, which more businesses are crafting detailed policies to address. Many businesses realize that occasional device use is to be expected, so their policies specifically prohibit excessive device use while in the office. This should apply whether the device is issued by the business or it is the employee’s personal device. Include this policy as part of the orientation packet employees receive on the first day and refer to it occasionally as a reminder. Some workplaces hang signs in conference rooms reminding employees to silence their cell phones and refrain from their use during meetings. You could even post this as part of your room usage guidelines.

Smartphones and meetings

Nothing is more annoying than that employee who is constantly checking a mobile device during a meeting. Senior team members have every right to ask that cell phones be silenced during meetings, but that won’t necessarily stop participants from sneaking an occasional peek. When that happens, it’s important not to create an awkward situation by embarrassing the employee. Instead, wait until during a break and pull the employee off to the side. If your meeting is too brief for breaks, address the issue before your next meeting, either directly asking the employee to refrain or asking all employees to avoid checking their phones until the meeting is over.

Parents and smartphones

“Nanny cams” have become popular in recent years, especially in daycare centers. These cameras allow parents to check in on their children throughout the day. For new parents, these cameras can be a great way to make that connection when they otherwise would have been distracted with worry. As some parents have pointed out, though, these tools can be addictive, so a quick check-in can easily turn into 15 minutes or a half an hour. Whether this is a good move for parents or not, if the employee is being paid to work, if too much spycam monitoring has become detrimental to your business’s bottom line, you have every right to discuss it with the employee.

Repeat offenders

For employers, managers, and HR departments, the biggest issue may come when an employee has been asked, reprimanded, and even issued a written warning about excessive mobile device use in the office. This is especially true if the employee is putting client relationships at risk by engaging in smartphone use during consultations or meetings. If you do decide to terminate an employee due to cell phone abuse, you’ll first need to make sure you’ve documented the issue with specific dates and details about how it harmed productivity or distracted other employees. In many states, employers can terminate at any time, but it’s best to be careful. You’ll also need that documentation if the employee files for unemployment and you decide to contest it.

Smart homes offer employees the ability to monitor their home appliances and children when they can’t be with them. However, excessive cell phone use of any type can be a productivity drain. If you’re paying employees to work for you, personal device use is costing you money, especially if the usage is so extreme that you’ve begun to notice. When mobile device use causes a problem of any type, businesses should first remind employees of policies before progressing to one-on-one conversations or even eventual termination.

For more insight on workplace balance, see Millennials Expect Your Company To Possess A Strong Heartbeat.


About John Boitnott

John is a longtime digital media consultant who has written for Venturebeat, FastCompany, Search Engine Journal and NBC. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.