Employee Cell Phone Usage During Work Hours - Ethics vs Regulations


Can people throw their light / opinions regarding an employee's cell phone usage during work hours? I believe that headphones / cell phone screen time is distracting during work hours.

Jan 9, 20 5:23 pm

Some people can handle it, some people can't. As professionals, they should be self-aware enough to make the right decisions.

If someone is missing deadlines or performing substandard work because they're distracted, that's a conversation between them & their boss. Applying blanket rules is, in my opinion, overbearing and unnecessary. Give people the opportunity to be adults. 

Jan 9, 20 5:34 pm

Have people seen instances where companies have provided rules during employment time?

Or companies have sent rules out to all employees?

Jan 9, 20 5:39 pm
Non Sequitur

We have a no headphones during work hour policy.  It's not followed by everyone, specially the junior staff, but it's not enforced. (But I can guarantee management is aware).  Ditto for personal web browsing or cell phone use.

My take is:  If your work does not suffer, then it's not worth the time to make changes.  Tduds makes a good adulting point.

Jan 9, 20 5:40 pm

i can't imagine a functional workplace where cellphones are restricted. most people above interns have at least occasional need to communicate with coworkers, consultants and clients.

in my case and most of my team, we are sending messages back and forth constantly during the day, as it's common that key individuals on one project will be out following leads for another project or holding other meetings and updating on information. my previous firm actually provided cellphones to all staff above a certain level to make sure they were available for communication. but that was a relic of an outdated policy from a time before cellphones were ubiquitous.

legally, there's certainly no law that covers what people are required to do at work. but a company that restricted cell phone use would be a major red flag to me and a signal that they misunderstand the role of communication in doing work. it would certainly have an impact on the quality and age of potential employees the office would attract.

Jan 9, 20 6:06 pm
Non Sequitur

I think the op is referring more to browsing Facebook on your personal phone while at work. Company use of cell phone is obviously kosher.


Very clearly work is suffering. And its not just headphones. Its also cell-phone screen time.

Feels like we are trying to advise teenagers here

Jan 9, 20 6:06 pm

Headphones actually help me get work done if I'm doing tedious tasks. Someone being on their cell phone too much I can understand, but how are the headphones distracting to the individual?


Just like others above have stated, our company doesn't micromanage people if they're getting their work done. A blanket rule of no phones/headphones will definitely hinder office culture in my opinion


In this world of open-plan offices, I absolutely need headphones if I need to intensely focus on something.


We don't micromanage either. I am here to understand what everyone's opinion is within the younger generations and understanding their perspective before we open this inter-office discussion.


what if these employees don't really need to have text-messaging as a mode of communication with anyone. All our team is in one location.

And I don't see sending project communications over text mesages. It is always best through emails as the communication is traceable for future reference.

Jan 9, 20 6:10 pm
Non Sequitur

Maybe you need top down management, most adults can be adults in a professional workplace without having everything regulated.


We are all in cubicles, our boss installed a large screen TV that we all can see so that we could watch the hockey games during the last Olympics.

Personal cell phone time is expected to be limited. We are only allowed one headphone in our ear.  I also know some employees stream shows while working.  Management knows about it and I am sure that the Canadian Tire gift card bonus's were adjusted accordingly to suit.

Jan 9, 20 6:12 pm

I get the gist. 

Thanks a lot for your opinions / suggestions guys.

Jan 9, 20 7:31 pm

I don't buy that this is really an issue for the office. I'm suspecting you might be hypersensitive to it so you think it's more of an issue than it really is. You say that work is suffering ... please elaborate. What type of work are they supposed to be doing? How are they not meeting the office's standard? Can you quantify this in some way? Have you defined what your expectation for meeting the office's standard is for this employee? Do they have all the tools and guidance they need to be a productive employee?

Jan 9, 20 7:38 pm

Its not just me. My partner feels the same.


What type of work? I am referring to intern architects in my post. They are doing normal architectural design & documentation work using AutoCAD & Revit. Some of them have to email consultants for coordination? Very minimal communication through phone is needed.


How are they not meeting office's standard? We sit in an open office collaborative setting. If someone has both the headphones on and if the project manager / project architect wants to communicate, they always have to get up and go to their desk to talk to them. In a small boutique but dynamic & growing practice, its quite disruptive. Also, if out of 8 hours, although cant be proven unless someone would allow for their phones to be checked for screentime usage, we have noticed them, using their phones maybe between 1-2 hours during the 8-hour day. We have a flexible workhours policy. But seems like it is being taken advantage off.


Have you defined what your expectation for meeting the office's standard is for this employee? We have had general discussions. But not on this topic. Seems like we need to have a lunch-hour open office discussion.


Do they have all the tools and guidance they need to be a productive employee? Absolutely yes. We pride ourselves in and strive in guiding and training everyone in the office to be successful. And with a healthy work-balance life. We have a no overtime policy. In 10 years of being in practice, our office has never asked for overtime from any employee till date.


I am glad you asked the questions above. I hope I answered them well enough.

Non Sequitur

I agree on the no head-phone thing. If someone needs to talk to someone or the phone rings, you don't want to have to make the extra effort to get the staff's attention. That's how we operate with the extra bonus that you can learn plenty just by being present when others talk to clients or other projects.


Nobody works 8 hours in an 8 hour day


I should not work for 8 hours but I should expect to get paid for 8 hours? And you feel thats alright? Seriously?


It's individual conversation time, in closed doors, to line up expectations. Make sure they understand that if they feel stuck or like they don't have work to do, that they are to go to "x" immediately to get help/more work. If you have multiple employees doing this, after a 2-month period of this, let go the weakest link and inform the rest of why the firm made this decision. If they want their jobs, they'll step it up.


get over it man, there are any number of distractions besides a phone that allow people to get a brief mental break, you should also get rid of the internet while you are at it. sounds like you are well on your way to cultivating a miserable work environment. I personally don't care about time as long as what needs to get done gets done.


i'm with chigurh on most of their points. however, if we're to believe everything you stated, then find new staff if it's such an issue. i always have one ear bud in my dome; can't work without it, but i almost never do both ears. additionally, if your staff is available via office 365 - cell and home computer - then i most assuredly wouldn't care. why? i don't log all the time i spend answering project questions when i'm out of town, but i deal with business on my vacation, or pto time, because i'm a professional and know that shit won't wait for me to return. do i gripe, no. what this really sounds like, from everything you describe, is a disconnect between the principals and those they employ; you don't trust them, and they don't trust you.

Thanks for the responses. I think you're getting some pretty good advice overall. I don't think this takes an all-staff meeting to address, nor does it take some type of policy to be written and enforced. I suspect, like others have, that maybe they're getting bored and the phone thing is the symptom, not the problem. I also think that being able to hear the conversations going on around you is important when you're starting your career and really when you get started in any office. Finally, I also think that adults can be expected to make their own choices without needing someone watching over them. 

My advice ... make up some excuse to sit down one-on-one with the employees in question, like a casual performance review at a nearby coffee shop. Mention that you are looking for ways in which they could potentially take on more responsibility (even if it's only to peer review some details the other young employees are drawing). Ask them about their career goals. Ask what you and the firm can do to help them in their career goals. Listen to them. 

During the course of this meeting, mention the reasoning you have decided as a practice to sit in an open office is (hopefully you and your partner don't have your own private offices ... if you do, tear down the walls). Explain that you want them to be attentive to the conversations and impromptu meetings around them because those are valuable learning experiences that will help them learn and advance their careers. 

Basically, establish your expectations and let them make the choice. Follow up by making some of the changes they suggest so they know you are serious about listening to them, and helping them out.

Non Sequitur

We had (unfortunately) an all staff meeting to discuss wiping down the sink after filling/making the coffee. This apparently is such a problem (likely for one person) that it needed office wide attention but it's not my floor's coffee maker so I had to sit there cringing at the ridiculousness of it while others nod silently. So, adulting is not a given for most adults.

Sometimes adults have differing ideas of cleanliness and responsibility in shared spaces. Establishing expectations is important. One of the partners in my old office started complaining about water droplets on the counter in the restroom. There was a whole push about using the paper towel you just dried your hands with to wipe down the counter around the sink when you leave. Another one of the partners consistently failed to wash his hands after using the facilities so ... there's always that conversation you could have had instead.

Non Sequitur

EI, do we work in the same office?

Ha ha, no. Though I still maintain I'd like you on my architecture dream team.

Non Sequitur

Nice. I don't think I'd even want myself on my own dream team... If I had to choose, I'd have one Will Alsop and two Ricky Balkins and I'd watch from a safe distance.


I should not work for 8 hours but I should expect to get paid for 8 hours? And you feel thats alright? Seriously?

My value as an employee is not how many hours I sit in a desk chair on your behalf.  It's the work that is accomplished.  Perhaps I can simply knock out a task quicker than the next--my efficiency should gain me some personal time to check my phone.  In other words, stop worrying about people being productive between 8:00 and 5:00.  We are all tethered to our work when we go home--we more than make up for an hour or two of Facebook during the work day.                                  


The days I forgot my headphones while on the arch side were the worst. 8 hours of fire rated details drafting without them were a slow painful death.

Jan 9, 20 7:55 pm
Non Sequitur

I'm the king of fire details but I'll never wear head-phones during the day. Too many phone calls and plenty of people stopping by to ask questions and whatnot. I can see the appeal tho for straight production staff where no interaction with others is common.


Yes - if I had a senior role like yourself I'd be less inclined. None of the senior staff here wear headphones, except for taking calls. Whereas most of the primarily production staff wear them frequently.

Non Sequitur

^ yes... but if I'm in the office in the evening and alone, then it's Alice in Chains through the sound system under my desk. 8-)


^ Amazing choice in music.

atelier nobody

I have a fairly senior role, but I often wear headphones - I'm kind of notorious in the department for the things people have to do to get my attention. With my brain weasels I'd never get anything done without music to help me focus (also a proponent of the "pomodoro method").

I only gravitate toward ‘personal’ phone time if I’m legit bored out of my mind with little to nothing to do. That said I’m fairly senior in that many consultants gcs etc have my cell number which is subsidized by the firm. If I’m truly busy I forget I even have a phone.

If your staff is truly failing to complete tasks I’d suggest speaking to those individuals on a case by case basis, I suspect it’s one or two employees this is applicable to rather than the company as a whole. Making a firm wide announcement to ban cell phone use will likely come off as micro manage-y / borderline tyrannical and send the wrong message to those who are not doing anything wrong. If it continues to be an issue with specific staff, then like any staff underperforming in any capacity, speak to them one on one and make it clear this isn’t acceptable, work is suffering etc. Cell phone use isn’t the problem if work isn’t getting done it’s the staff who isn’t doing the work, the cell phone is a symptom not the problem. Everyone has a phone. Start restricting that and it’s akin to telling staff they need to ask for bathroom breaks. They aren’t children. If the problems persist then let them go and hire someone else.

However, bear in mind the human mind can only do so much in a single day and a certain amount of breaks are needed to maintain highest and best productivity. Suggest if they need a break, they take a 10 minute walk, without a screen involved. It’s a great way to refresh the mind and I try to get myself to do so. Of course if they’re playing angry birds on company time that’s a different issue.
Jan 10, 20 9:48 am

Our policy is headphones are ok, but no noise-canceling.  You have to be able to hear your phone ring and others talking in the studio. As for cell phones, it is ok to take a call away from your desk or check your messages, but don't sit and text all day long. 

We had someone who wore noise-canceling headphones and texted all day. We moved her seat to a different desk where she had more supervision from the partners and that seemed to help a little.

I wear headphones on days where I am drafting or writing specs for the full day and need to read/think.  I frequently listen to either some orchestral music or an ambient noise app to block out distracting sounds.  If I hear someone talking, I'll take an earbud out and see what's up.

Jan 10, 20 9:51 am

The policy at our firm is that you can take calls and texts as needed. The partners treat everyone as adults and if there are issues getting work done, it's treated on an individual basis.

Headphones - everyone uses them. I feel like it's necessary in an open office, especially one like mine where there is a lot of chatter. The one thing I find REALLY odd is that young staff (ie. fresh grads) walk around the office with their ear buds in...I find it utterly bizarre and kind of brazen. Maybe I sound like an old fart but I'm only 6-7 years older than these kids. None of the partners have said anything about it.

Jan 10, 20 11:26 am

I work for a large office and the only policies we have are: what people are allowed to post on social media and no texting official correspondence (email or phone calls only). A lot of people wear noise cancelling headphones if they are busy and do not want to be disturbed (like an intense production session). 

if someone’s performance is suffering due to social media addiction, then we have a chat with that person. 

Jan 10, 20 11:45 am

tduds wrote: "Some people can handle it, some people can't. As professionals, they should be self-aware enough to make the right decisions.

If someone is missing deadlines or performing substandard work because they're distracted, that's a conversation between them & their boss. Applying blanket rules is, in my opinion, overbearing and unnecessary. Give people the opportunity to be adults. "


I agree with tduds. While I am not employing employees at this time and if I were to, cell phone / smart phone use would be totally acceptable. However, the caveat is that people should use their cell phones/smart phones responsibly for work related matters as much as possible. There maybe times where turning off the phones would be appropriate such as in some meetings where using the phone would be a distraction to the employee but also others. 

As for the headphones stuff, it depends. If it causes you to be counter productive and not working with team members then it may be an issue. Like anything, be responsible and use when appropriate and not use when not appropriate. I would not want to use blanket rules. Employees should be aware of their surroundings while working with headphones or using their phone. 

When doing continuing education stuff, I use headphones instead of speakers. I would think it would be distracting to others in a work place to have such continuing education courses and presentations (online) be on speakers so I would think it would be justified to use headphones. 

Being considerate of others is important. I didn't quote everything said but an essential point is if people are adults, then they should be treated as responsible adults and they should conduct themselves as responsible adults.

Jan 10, 20 1:17 pm
Happy Anarchy

unless your mother is dieing, it's called lunch break.

this what i do

Jan 10, 20 9:05 pm

I would not work at your firm.


I rarely wear headphones these days, but sometimes they're necessary - spec writing or doing a thorough redline review. Most of us have laptops and when I need to focus, I'll often either put my phone on Do Not Disturb, or take my laptop or CD set to another part of the office with fewer distractions.  Work still gets done.

It sounds like you don't trust your employee(s) which won't end well for either of you. I notice a couple of people in the office who "watch" movies in the background or check Instagram every couple of hours, and I couldn't care less so long as they're maintaining office standards and meeting deadlines. Everybody works a little differently. I have no interest in micro managing my employees, and I'm sure the feeling is mutual. 

Jan 11, 20 3:03 am

I use my phone at work. I sit in my office kind of away from everyone else so there is not really anyone to police this either way. Some days my workload is intense and I don't have time to be online if it's not work related. Some days I am able to focus while listening to podcasts, music, shows in the background. This does not distract me from getting more  done than what is required of me. I do keep personal phone calls for breaks/lunch though.

Jan 13, 20 3:45 pm

We don't allow phones but we allow disco. And be honest, which would you rather have?

Jan 16, 20 11:51 am

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