Smartphones, and other mobile devices, have delivered enormous increases in productivity since they became a feature of working life. They have transformed business communications and connected employees to colleagues and head office regardless of their location. However, employees also have to ensure that company-owned mobile devices are used only for work-related purposes.

Unmonitored use of corporate phones runs the risk that an employee might use theirs to access an improper or possibly illegal website. They may also send inappropriate texts or emails, or use their smartphone to tweet sentiments that are off company message. You will also need to ensure they are not sending sensitive company or client information to places they ought not to.

Has the employee signed up, perhaps inadvertently, for some billable service that you will end up paying for? Have they made a donation to a charity that involves a recurring fee they haven’t cancelled or reimbursed? Misuse can be innocent or even well-intentioned.

No time-wasters, please

Whether having a company-issued device or permission to charge usage of a personally-owned device to expenses, the most obvious abuse of these privileges is good old-fashioned wasting of company time. You pay two ways: in wages for work time they are spending on their own leisure, and in the increasingly likely event that their consumption of data is metered for their phone bill, not offered by the service provider on an ‘all-you-can-eat’ basis. If they are roaming regularly abroad, then data usage of this sort is exorbitant.

Wasting time at work is nothing new, but thanks to technology it is now easier and more tempting than ever. With a handheld device, somebody can look as if they are working when they are actually emailing friends or using social media. Younger employees in particular may well be bringing to work not only their own smartphone but their expectation of being always connected it. Technology is an addictive habit for many people – young and old.

“If someone is spending an hour a day of work time on Facebook, then you are possibly not only footing the cost of that connectivity but also perhaps paying them £5,000 or more a year in wages for the time taken.”

This may be a more harmful habit that you realise. If someone is spending an hour a day of work time on Facebook, then you are possibly not only footing the cost of that connectivity but also perhaps paying them £5,000 or more a year in wages for the time taken. If they took this money from a till, they would stand to be immediately dismissed. It’s a problem that may also end up causing resentment among employees who either don’t enjoy mobile privileges, or who have their own digital usage under control.

Setting allowances

So what to do? One route is to set allowances for how many minutes and text messages employees are allowed per month, and make clear that excess comes off their pay. This type of rule will need to be enshrined in a clear policy agreed to by the employees. This will need to be a fair and unambiguous policy, to which employees will need to see their bosses adhering. You will need to make it clear that phone activity will be audited and validated. People who know they are monitored will be much more likely not to abuse the system. Software-based tools exist to make this auditing easier than poring over an itemised bill.

You’ll probably be better off moderating your vigilance with a dose of reason and tolerance. One or two texts sent in work time can’t hurt, and it might pay in the long run to allow personal calls to be made during break time. Encouragement and the pointing out of good sense may be more effective than coercion. Draw attention, for example, to the idea that using a smartphone or any mobile device makes sense when on the road, but not at a desk where a cheap wired alternative is at your elbow.