Smartphones make humans less efficient, study finds

htc 10 smartphones Stats SA

If you’re reading this on your phone at work, put that damn thing down. Well, that’s probably what your boss would say after reading this. According to a “new psychological experiment” conducted by the University of Würzburg and University of Nottingham Trent, smartphones may make humans 26% less productive at work.

The experiment, commissioned by Kaspersky Labs, rounded 95 individuals between 19- and 56-years-old, and asked participants to “perform a concentration test under four different circumstances: with their smartphone in their pocket, at their desk, locked in a drawer and removed from the room completely”.

The researchers found that when smartphones were on participants’ desks, they were 26% less effective than when no smartphone was present.

They also noted that test results increased the further from sight and mind the smartphones were.

As for those who can’t live without smartphones (yours truly), the researchers didn’t notice a heightened sense of anxiety when their smartphones were removed entirely.

Take away my anxiety

“Contrary to expectations, the absence of the smartphone didn’t make participants nervous,” explains the press release.

There is a varied response when gender is considered, though.

“Anxiety levels were consistent across all experiments. However, in general, women were more anxious than their male counterparts, leading researchers to conclude that anxiety levels at work are not affected by smartphones (or the absence of smartphones), but can be impacted by gender.”

When smartphones were on participants’ desks, they were 26% less effective than when no smartphone was present

There’s a huge issue with this study though. According to researchers’ comments, it doesn’t conclusively prove whether smartphones are indeed breakers or makers of productivity at work. Instead, making them accessible or removing them entirely may cause distractions, be it emotionally or physically.

“Previous studies have shown that on the one hand, separation from one’s smartphone has negative emotional effects, such as increased anxiety, but, on the other hand, studies have also demonstrated that one’s smartphone may act as an distractor when present. In other words, both the absence and presence of a smartphone could impair concentration,” explains Jens Binder from the University of Nottingham Trent.

Modern workplace, modern problems

Of course, removing smartphones from the modern workplace isn’t a simple decision.

Many companies — like Memeburn — rely heavily on mobile technology to function. And with the likes of Slack, Facebook Workplace and even WhatsApp, keeping in touch using a mobile phone is incredibly important.

Kaspersky’s MD Riaan Badernhorst recommends businesses have a smartphone timeout.

“Instead of expecting permanent access to their smartphones, employee productivity might be boosted if they have dedicated ‘smartphone-free’ time. One way of doing this is to enforce ‘meeting rules’ – such as no phones, and no computers – in the normal work environment.”

Do you have anything to add? Do you feel that smartphones are detrimental or beneficial in the workplace? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Andy Walker, former editor


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