The Cost of Distraction
The Impact of Mobile Devices on Workplace Productivity

Introduction The Growing Global Epidemic of a Distracted Workforce

“Houston, we have a productivity problem,” says the vice president of sales to her company’s CEO as she nervously eyes the latest sales dashboard. Analytics show that sales have been consistently slipping, and the mission of meeting this month’s quota needs to be aborted – again. Her boss wants answers. Could it be the stiffer competition that’s crippling the organization’s ability to win customer RFPs? The stream of complaints that have spilled in over social media and stained its customer service reputation? Or the fact that a co-worker has been taking extended lunch hours and longer breaks than usual?

It’s likely that all the above has contributed to declining revenue. But the real culprit behind this business’ lost productivity lies, quite literally, in the hands of its workforce: mobile technology. Between handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets, portable laptops and notebooks and the multiple apps that live on them, there’s no shortage of distractions competing for the attention of today’s workers.

Cell phone usage and texting are the #1 productivity killer at work, say more than half (55%) of U.S. employers.

Productivity has been on a steady downhill slide in the decade since smartphones were introduced, and Bank of England economist Dan Nixon claims that as smartphone sales have gone way up, productivity has gone way down. This cause-and-effect correlation points to Nixon’s hypothesis that mobile phones and other portable devices contribute to weaker workforce productivity which, in turn, create consequences for the economy.

5 Hours Every Week Spent on Mobile Devices


100 Employees


500 hours a week

2,000 hours a month

1 FTE year of work lost/month

The Real Cost of Lost Productivity in Business Making Cents of it All

A growing body of research shows that workplace distractions have eaten into companies’ bottom lines – costing U.S. businesses an estimated $650 billion per year. The economic impact is pretty significant when you consider that the average employee spends nearly five hours per week using their cell phones for non-work related activities in the office. These valuable hours are lost to answering personal calls, surfing the Internet, following social media, replying to texts or email, playing games, checking the news/weather/sports and feeding a host of consumer-based apps that are engineered to manipulate brain chemistry and elicit addictive behaviors. It’s not that employees are purposely being insubordinate or lazy; the addiction to non-business apps is very real, funded by industries who are investing heavily to keep us entertained and informed.

Five hours every week spent distracted on mobiles devices may not sound staggering at first, but for a company with 100 employees, that’s about 500 hours every week – or roughly 2,000 hours a month. Business leaders often cite 2,000 hours as the average worker’s annual time commitment to the job, roughly calculated based on a 40-hour average work week. So, when you think about it, for every month of lost hours, that business is losing one year’s worth of an employee’s work. Consider the tens of thousands of dollars of missed sales that could have been won or the hundreds of calls from unhappy clients that could have been prevented or saved.

Aside from the hard costs, there are many soft and hidden cost losses resulting from device distractions. These needless interruptions are often linked to compromised work quality, missed deadlines and even low employee morale from having to cover for another team member who is consistently underperforming or absent.

Also, what happens to an employee’s morale or mindset when inappropriate or controversial content is consumed directly or overheard from fellow workers while using a mobile device? Political polarization, sexual harassment, employee discrimination and other serious issues can leak into the work environment through news retrieved onsite and pose a threat to workforce harmony and stability, ultimately hurting productivity.

Plugging the Drains of Distraction, Finding Balance

In order to minimize mobile distractions in the workplace and regain lost time, talent and revenue, business leaders need to look at the two main ways that mobile devices can sap employee productivity.

The first is the impact on effective time spent working. As many as 80% of workers keep a smartphone in view throughout their workday, and the average person checks their device 110 times per day. It can be argued that mobile technology can actually be a productivity booster when workplace-specific apps that track projects, inventory, customer invoices, etc. are put to use for real-time access to business data.

An influx of emails and phone calls can reduce an employee’s IQ by 10 points – equivalent to losing a night’s sleeps.

The second drain is on the economy’s most precious resource – human attention. The app-distracted mindset is breeding a new condition we’ll term “attention device disorder.” Constant interruptions from phones dinging, vibrating, displaying incoming messages, etc. compete for attention and steal concentration away from tasks at hand – even when devices are stowed in a pocket, purse or desk.

So what’s a business to do? Three out of four employers have taken at least one step to mitigate productivity killers, and most companies have traditionally attempted to minimize device distractions by instituting written employee policies, restricting access to certain websites on their internal network, banning device use during meetings, establishing common areas designated for cell phone calls and more, but with limited success. Enforcing such guidelines has proven to be challenging in many cases.

Others have also deployed a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution to remotely configure, update, support and track multiple devices on a company’s network. Traditional MDM manages the security of a device by regulating what apps are deployed, as well as what company data can be accessed. While MDM is a good option, it also has its limitations, namely because it doesn’t provide context into how or when an employee is using a device. Also, businesses can only control their own networks. Employees who bring their own smartphones or tablets in a BYOD environment, whether condoned for work use or just for personal use, have their own connection that an employer cannot control without making special technical provisions.

Devices themselves, however, are not the culprit. It’s how and when they’re used by employees that create the productivity issues. Controlling such usage is not only difficult from an employer’s perspective but can be from an employee’s as well. Rules themselves can’t “force” an individual to limit device use, regain attentiveness and suddenly become a superhero. At the same time, employers cannot become enablers of addictive behaviors by ignoring uncensored or limitless device use during the workday. It’s a fine balance that must be addressed at the core.

It takes the human brain around 25 minutes to recover from an interruption before returning to the original task.

As Deep Work author Cal Newport reflects, “Bosses need to consider the balance between providing employees’ brains timely access to the right information” and “providing these brains the right conditions under which to process this information effectively.”

A New Solution Contextual Mobile Device Management (CMDM)

To provide the right conditions, organizations need to look deep within their culture to assess how they can effectively empower employees to perform at their fullest potential. There is a better way to battle the toll that device distractions take on productivity, when technology is used to solve the problems that it created.

This is where a new concept known as “Contextual Mobile Device Management (CMDM)” comes in. The theory behind CMDM is that companies can maximize the mobile device experience based on the zone where the employee is working – whether that’s traveling in the field, reporting to a job site, or sitting behind a desk at the office or in a meeting room. Likewise, these zones also exist in an employee’s personal life – at home after work, enjoying family time, vacationing, etc. Based on the zone, certain apps on an individual’s device are served up and made available depending on his or her unique situation, location and time.

CMDM is not about controlling end user devices, but rather enabling employees to access particular apps at the right time in the right place. Alternatively, where there is a safety or privacy issue, specific apps are not made available in that given context – for example, in a Boardroom or R&D lab where proprietary information could be photographed or recorded. The bottom line is that CMDM controls when an employee can use what is installed on their device in an intelligent (contextual) way. Especially in BYOD workplaces, this allows employees to install whatever they want and use whatever network (internal, cellular, hot spot) they choose – all while their employer manages the content those employees can access in their work environment.

How CMDM works is pretty straight-forward. CMDM software resides on an employee’s mobile device, intelligently “follows” that individual and identifies the zone or environment where they are working based on contextual indicators. Once the context is identified, apps and functionality on that person’s device are temporarily activated or deactivated according to the employer’s mobile device usage policy to enable optimal engagement, safety and productivity in that specific setting. In the simplest of terms, certain apps or features work when they should and don’t when they shouldn’t. The employer and the worker always know that device usage is compliant with company policy.

The premise behind CMDM for each employee is that “whatever environment you’re in, we’re making you better.” CMDM can be configured to fit the requirements of a specific workforce and company policy, even down to the individual employee. Employees know when the CMDM app is active because it is visible, and emergency services and contacts are always available. The goal is to be able to restore workforce productivity and to empower employees to overcome their mobile technology addiction behaviors, while not disrupting normal work processes. CDMD helps businesses to free up workers to make the best use of their time untethered by device distractions. Ultimately, this leads to better job performance and higher quality output.

Conclusion It’s Time to Flip the Equation

Imagine what could be possible if mobile devices were used in the right way, every day, to help employees perform at their peak. Instead of being a distraction, devices became powerful productivity tools. Today, more than half (53%) of corporate executives cite business processes and improved productivity as the primary benefit of mobility, and custom apps can actually save 7.5 hours per employee per week.

CMDM can even help employers to embrace the broader use of proprietary mobile apps, when business leaders know that they can effectively manage potential non-work distractions caused by the use of mobile devices. As organizations roll out new custom business apps, they can rest assured that CMDM will move forward with these technology upgrades. Workers therefore can more fully engage with relevant, company-specific apps designed to help them when they are served up “front and center” during business hours. Everybody wins.

Recapturing lost time and experiencing a fully engaged and productive workforce contributes to numerous benefits – namely the financial gains associated with revenue that is now able to be generated because employees are better able to focus with fewer device distractions. CMDM not only helps minimize unnecessary disruptions by making specific apps and features available and unavailable based on context, but allows for more human-to-human interactions and meaningful connections. That means more time for quality conversations, idea generation and contributions in meetings.

The time for CMDM is now. YOU can make a real difference in your employees’ lives, to the greater business community and to the global economy.