How Smartphones Are Dumbing Down Your Company

Andy Porter Andy Porter, Communication, Culture, HR (& Life!) Advice, HR Tech

It pains me to even write the headline for this blog. But the truth is, the technology that’s made work more efficient and connected us in ways that we never thought possible is the same technology that’s dumbing us down.

Don’t believe me? Put your smartphone down for a minute and take a look around you. Riding the train? What do you hear? Nothing? Oh right, that’s because people are staring at a screen or have white headphones in. At an event with your kid? Do you even know

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where your kid is? Of course not, because almost every parent is messing around on their phone. And one last question. What’s the last thing you do right before going to sleep? Kiss your partner goodnight or check your phone? Yup. Thought so.

We in HR spend all this time developing programs, policies and processes designed

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to make our cultures better and more productive. I’m beginning to wonder if we’re missing the most obvious and important thing we could do–ban smartphones in the workplace. Why? Well, you’ll never know why because you’ve all probably already checked your phone at least once since you started reading this blog and are only half paying attention at this point. If you’re able to resist the urge and can read on, here are just a few examples how smartphones are killing us slowly:

We don’t know how to talk to people (in person that is). Face-to-face communication is becoming a lost art. I routinely get emails and texts from people who I can literally see from my desk. That’s just annoying. The bigger issue in my opinion is we’re losing the ability to have in-depth conversations (and god forbid, feedback conversations) with our colleagues. It’s much faster to send a short text with a brief answer without any context or rationale, and let the other person do all the work to decipher.

We make important decisions on snippets of data. How many times have you been in a meeting where you look around the room and the majority of people are on their phone looking at something. It’s become almost like a way to show how busy/important you are since you’re multi-tasking (even though you’re probably just surfing the web). The problem is, no one is really listening and participating in the topic being discussed in the room. So often decisions are made based on hearing bits and pieces of a conversation with little to no discussion on the “why.”

We don’t know where to draw the line between work and home. I often hear people say things like “you can reach me 24/7” and they say this with pride. I used to feel that way but now I just think it’s sad. If I really can reach you 24/7 then I suspect you’re making a trade-off in other parts of your life and that’s not good for you or the company. You know you’re one of these people if you snuggle up every night with your iphone right next to you. I’ll skip the obvious reasons like needing downtime to recharge and time to step back to reflect on your work (to make better decisions). I happen to believe that having a full life outside of work with interesting hobbies and time to interact with friends and family actually makes you a better, more productive employee.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying all technology is bad. Clearly that’s not the case. But I do think we’re making trade-offs between efficiency and ability to have real conversations that aren’t trivial. Keep this is mind next time you pull your phone out in a meeting!

Andy Porter

Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.