Small business owners who employ staff find office technology to be both a friend and foe. The ready flow of information and the transparency that comes with it is a boon to business owners and managers. But, the same technology tools can bring obsessive distraction.

Psychology Professor Larry Rosen calls this “iDisorder.” If you are a member of my generation, you see this in younger people, but you should watch yourself, too. This “disorder” diagnoses your “. . . brain´s ability to process information and your ability to relate to the world due to your daily use of media and technology resulting in signs and symptoms of psychological disorders – such as stress, sleeplessness, and a compulsive need to check in with all of your technology.” Another way to describe this problem is “the fear of missing out.”

We each exchange thousands of texts a month and consume 12 hours of information a day. So, how is a manager to build a strategy to manage the side effects? Knowing that clear focus is the origin and means to complete good work, what’s a good manager to do?

  • Install an information system with no access to the internet. Structure your business network so that employees cannot reach the web for emails, shopping, etc. Depending on the type of business, some employees, such as those in purchasing or marketing may need to be exempt from exclusion.
  • Prohibition is negative. Requiring employees to leave their smart phones at the door is counter-productive – except where devices present a safety risk. Instead, manage the distraction with employee input. Meet with all affected employees to brainstorm and reach some consensus on what is necessary but doable.
  • Fair is a moveable target. Employees think that fair means equal across the board. They are understandably upset when they see a manager or other employee apparently breaking the rules. So, when you reach consensus, the agreement must acknowledge that some staff members, such a sales people, have necessary permission.
  • Allow tech breaks. Understand that our contemporaries can only bring their full attention to a task for 15-20 minutes. Fasting from their texting, social networks, and email longer than that prompts a number of distracting responses like any addictive behavior. Permitting controlled tech-breaks at scheduled times during the day should restore flow and balance.
  • Open a tech lounge. If you have the space, designate a small lounge where staff can spend their 2-5 minute tech breaks. In short, get them off the main floor lest they distract others.

The small business owner cannot redesign the new generation of workers. You can model values for them, you can communicate equitable expectations, and you can manage behavior. But, given the fundamental psychological shift that technology has wrought, we have to find some compromise with the world in which we now live. You have to work at making the technology work for you. You have to build this evolution into your business strategy. In terms of purchase, installation, and practice, you have to build growth and innovation into your plan and human capital.


By Steven Schlagel