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Cellular next to keyboard?

  • 1.  Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-09-2019 23:42

    I am interested to know how other principals handle the use of cellular phones in the office within their staff members. We are a small practice of 7 and have been too flexible as to allow the use of personal cell phones. I feel it is time for a change as distraction and errors are too abundant. I would be interested to know how other firms manage restrictions if any. A colleague of mine does not allow phones and makes every staff member keep their phones in a cubby he built in the break room where they can use them during lunch breaks. As soon as he started with the new rule, two staff member left the firm. Thoughts?


    Thank you for your comments



    Jorge S. Kuperman, AIA

    JSK Architectural Group

    Coral Gables, FL

  • 2.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 17:25


    Your colleague's policy of making every staff member keep their phone in a cubby he built in the break room sounds quite harsh and might speak volumes about his relationship with his staff.  Not surprised that 2 staff members left the firm proximate to this.

    While cell phones can be distracting, having a cell phone close by is a way of life for many people.  I suggest convening a staff meeting (with cell phones off) to discuss your concerns directly.  Tell them that you are concerned about distractions and potential errors and, while you recognize that they might have legitimate needs to correspond with family members during the day, you would greatly appreciate everyone limiting cell phone use during business hours to only essential phone calls.  Explaining your perspective and seeking their input will be far more constructive than implementing a formal policy and building a special cubby hole to enforce it.



    Michael Strogoff, FAIA

    Strogoff Consulting, Inc.

    p: 415.383.7011

    c: 415.717.2755

    ownership transitions . mergers & acquisitions . practice management . leadership development . talent placement

    This message sent by Strogoff Consulting may contain information that is privileged or confidential and is intended exclusively for the person(s) to whom it is addressed.  Access to this email by anyone else is unauthorized.  If you have received this message in error, please notify us immediately and delete this message from your system.


  • 3.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 17:32
    ​no surprise.  employees need to be treated like adults and requires employers to exhibit trust.  communicate expectations.  when observing staff distracted by the cell phone, have a conversation on expectations.  this can be managed by communication and trust.

    Kerry Hogue AIA
    Denver CO

  • 4.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 17:41
    I find the cell phone gets more project specific use than the land line- especially during CA.  Immediate access is an advantage when away from the desk.

    David Matthews AIA
    LMN Architects
    Seattle WA

  • 5.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 17:46
    Treating your employees like naughty twelve-year-olds in a classroom is not going to be well-received, and it's no surprise to me that your colleague lost two staff members as a result of his new policy. Your employees are going to resent something so heavy-handed.

    You need to have a conversation with your staff to make it clear what is acceptable phone use and what is not, and make it clear WHY you're considering changing your phone policy. You mentioned that you've noticed that "distraction and errors are too abundant." Tell this to your team, and talk with them about approaches to solve these problems. Perhaps you offer a time period where catching up on the phone is acceptable, and ask that otherwise the phones are on Do Not Disturb to avoid distracting notifications. A buzzing or dinging phone is certainly a distraction to the phone's owner, and is also a distraction to other people in the studio - if it's silenced, you've helped reduce the distractions and still put the onus on your team to make decisions like adults.

    You may also have employees who are dealing with a situation outside of work that is impacting their attention and performance - check in with these people from a place of concern - "I've noticed that your attention is wandering more than it used to; is something going on that you want to tell me about?" or "I've noticed that your usual thoroughness in quality control seems lacking recently; is everything okay?" It may not have anything to do with playing games on a phone during work hours - they might have a child home sick and need to arrange babysitting, or are going through a divorce and have a lot of stress, or are caring for an ill relative who needs a lot of checking on during the day. Asking at an individual level means you aren't offering a blanket solution that affects everyone in the office without addressing the root causes of the "symptom" problems.

    My firm does not restrict phone use, and in general we don't have a problem with people on their phones during work hours. In fact, one of my colleagues uses her cell phone for work purposes throughout the day - calling contractors, sending emails on the road, getting text messages from clients, and so on - and has her cell phone number in her email signature to make it clear that this is a valid way she can be reached. As long as you're getting your work done and your team is working happily, nobody monitors your daily activities for infractions.

    Rachel Oleinick AIA
    Chicago IL

  • 6.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 17:49
    I have a staff of 16.  I have not had a problem with cell use.  I consider it no different than taking a call on a landline.  In my opinion, it sounds like you may have more of an issue with employees using company time to deal with personal issues.  I don't view that as a cell phone issue.  You may need to institute some policies regarding work hours and keeping personal affairs to a minimum.

    Too many of my employees also use their cell phones for company business which would make it very hard to limit cell use in the office.

    My bigger problem more recently has been with employees who use the phone for business purposes and how to compensate them.  There is a large amount of information on the internet for how this is handled in larger corporations, but, not so much for smaller firms.  It certainly does not make sense to pay for an entire phone bill when employees major use of a smart phone is likely for personal use.  I instead needed to determine employees that truly required cell phones to operate effectively and give them a stipend of a dollar amount to effectively compensate them for higher data use programs that they would not normally have had to buy.  What is fair compensation is the question?

    Bruce George AIA
    Charles Vincent George Architects, Inc.
    Naperville IL

  • 7.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 17:50
    Jorge, it is my POV that every firm is unique; primarily b/c it consists of a group of 'unique' individuals.  As such, the old saying "one man's poison, is another man's medicine'.  So, ofrget about what 'other' firms are doing and take the issue to the group.

    Initially, you might consider, sitting down with all of the staff (provide a lunch-bag session) and openly discuss your concerns and your thoughts of how to overcome the 'issues' that prevail currently due to the presence of cell phones in the workspace.  I believe you'll be surprisingly gratified by the creative suggestions from your staff members.  That could be the beginning of a whole new 'Espirit de Corps'.  And all it will cost you is the price of lunch.


    "Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." – A. Einstein  

    Steve L. Wintner, AIA Emeritus
    281.723.2090 (O), 512.943.8714 (H)
    Georgetown, TX 78633-5712

  • 8.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 18:01
    That is a fairly harsh reality to impress upon employees.  If locking cell devices is a company requirement, it could be a detriment to hiring and retaining employees.  The use of a cell phone and mobile devices in general are a way of the present day.  What about emergencies for your employees?  Employees who work during work hours and en route to meetings, on the weekends / evenings?  Use their phones and tablets for construction site visits?  Mobile devices are necessary in this day an age.  As a firm owner myself I realize the distraction, the constant loss of time and focus for employees at a detriment to possibly the work/projects at hand. But is is simply your own likes/dislikes or can you quantifiably equate the distraction to the errors or perhaps it could be the employees themselves?  My suggestion is to have a firm policy "limiting" the use of personal mobile devices and that it is discouraged to be conducting personal business during work hours.  This is standard anyways (same as limiting the use of checking personal email accounts and taking personal calls on company computers/telephones).  What it comes down to performance and that is all.  If an employee consistently hits deadlines, minimizes errors, and is engaged with the design work as anyone at their skill level then why would you need to have them lock their phone in a safe in the lunch room?  As a principle will you follow the same rule, locking your cell phone away?  Mobile phone or not...can employees produce?  If yes, great, if not, losing accessibility to their phone wonʻt make them a better employee.   The same is true for your top performing employee.  

    Reid T. Mizue, AIA
    OMIZU architecture inc
    1023 Pensacola Street Unit H
    Honolulu, HI 96814

  • 9.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 18:24
    Do you ever ask your employees to use their personal cell phones for work related tasks?

    That includes checking work email at a job site or after hours. That includes answering a call or text related to work on that personal cell phone at any time. (If you do require any of this, are you compensating your employees for the use of their personal device and the cost to maintain it?)

    If you never require any of this of your employees then I can see where you would be justified putting in a high school style cell phone Alcatraz cubbie in the break room. But the very notion that a professional environment is asking this seems absurd. Are you considering bathroom hall passes as well?

    Steven Munkirs AIA

  • 10.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 18:33

    Perhaps we (myself included) have been a bit harsh on Jorge for posing the question.  The real issue, if a secure cubby hole is warranted, is should staff design this during business hours or on their own time?



    Michael Strogoff, FAIA

    Strogoff Consulting, Inc.

    p: 415.383.7011

    c: 415.717.2755

    ownership transitions . mergers & acquisitions . practice management . leadership development . talent placement

    This message sent by Strogoff Consulting may contain information that is privileged or confidential and is intended exclusively for the person(s) to whom it is addressed.  Access to this email by anyone else is unauthorized.  If you have received this message in error, please notify us immediately and delete this message from your system.


  • 11.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 19:48

    I've read all the comments in this thread and I tend to agree with most of them.  Showing your employees that you trust them goes a long way.  Notice I said "showing" and not "telling" because actions speak louder than words.

    My question to you is why you think that cell phones are to blame for the abundancy of mistakes?  There are a number of things that could attribute to an abundancy of mistakes.  Have you looked at your internal processes?  The way you QC drawings? Do you have a QA/QC process? Are your senior staff available to guide your junior staff?  ​I ask these questions because we also have the same challenges, however we have discovered that it has more to do with getting the right staff into the right role and making sure senior staff are available to answer questions and guide our junior staff.

    Michelle Diaz
    Arrington Watkins Architects
    Phoenix AZ

  • 12.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 22:05
    This is a fascinating discussion.

    I wonder if those people who left were addicted to their cell phones (aka smartphones)? Did they give any reason (s) why they left? Any Exit Interview conducted?

    Just curious.

    Thank you,

    Tara Imani, AIA, NCIDQ, ASID, CSI
    Registered Architect + Interior Designer

    Tara Imani Designs, LLC
    10333 Richmond Avenue, Suite 170
    Houston, TX 77042

    Work/Mobile Ph: 832-723-1798

  • 13.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-13-2019 18:01
    This might sound a little tangential to this discussion, but have you ever thought it might be the CPUs that you are using or the applications that you are might want to consider switching to Archicad and get some new CPUs.  Or even adding additional learning opportunities like LinkedIn Learning or PluralSight to your firms offering.  Your in a stimulation battle.

    Often if I am distracted it isn't because there is something really interesting taking place on my smartphone but typically because I am waiting for my desktop machine to complete some sort of complex computational process.

    Willard Williams AIA
    Seattle WA

  • 14.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-12-2019 23:32
    Hi Jorge,

    What you colleague describes is a partial version of a SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility). It is the cell phone storage for government outside a classified meeting room.

    Seriously, maybe an interim staff meeting to discuss the problem will help bridge the solution. After a discussion and employee ideas you can put your ideas out for feedback. You will most likely be able to detect the level of resistance. The final determination is yours and the employees will know you have really thought this through.

    Good luck.

    Howard Sweatte, AIA

  • 15.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-14-2019 12:06
    Some of the best simple words given to me about managing any office and the group you work with:

    1. Find good "trustworthy" people to do the work.
    2. Provide the good people the best tools that they need to do the work.
    3. Provide the good people work to perform.
    4. Provide CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS of what needs to be done.
    5. Get out of their way and let them do the work you trust them to do.

    It sounds like your expectations/instructions were either too vague or not provided about cell phone use.
    Or do you feel that you did not find "trustworthy" people -or- do you NOT trust them to do the work?

    Assuming that you hired "trustworthy" people - TALK with the people about how you trust them to do the work - and make sure that they have clear expectations:
    • Remind them not to waste their company time on social media or personal issues when they should be working - they work and everyone gets paid more vs. work less and we get paid less...  Work when you are work and then they can go home to handle their personal issues.
    • QA/QC - remind them to check their own work  - remember the old adage "measure twice and cut once".  Double check their work and ask them to do the same.  Work will improve.
    • Remind them that you hired "professionals" and that they need to act like professionals.  I am willing to bet that you did NOT hire kids who need to have their phones taken away if they are "being bad".
    Look from top down - are you "goofing off" in front of them when you should be working?
    Make sure the standards you apply to them are applied to yourself as well.

    Good luck!

    Ket West, AIA


  • 16.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-14-2019 18:01
    Sidney, and Jorge:

    I agree with your list of how to how to manage your workforce.

    What I didn’t agree with was the last sentence in this paragraph:

    “Remind them not to waste their company time on social media or personal issues when they should be working - they work and everyone gets paid more vs. work less and we get paid less... Work when you are work and then they can go home to handle their personal issues.”

    In a recent top Firm I briefly worked for, it was a very open office layout and the workstations were about 5’-6” wide and some had 2’ deep vertical dividers while others did not.

    This meant phone calls made at one’s desk were overheard by a 15’-20’ radius. I heard calls to family members, doctor offices, insurance companies, (and to clients and consultants). Since it’s impossible to get one’s personal business handled only in the evenings and on weekends I advocate moving to a 4-day workweek.

    Some firms rearrange schedules to work longer hours Monday thru Thursday and leave at noon on Friday. I think this still is inadequate- especially in big cities with traffic.

    Regarding the mention of providing top tools: good WiFi on all computers should be imperative as well as a solid intranet. It was widely accepted in the office mentioned above to Google anytime a professional question came up (from code questions to industry standards).

    Everyone including me kept out iPhones plugged in next to us and I never saw anyone over-using their personal smartphones for texts or social media nor did I see anyone surfing the web for non-work-related Information. That’s one benefit of open office plans: transparency. I still take umbrage to the lack of privacy they provide being part introvert and a behind-the-scenes shy person that I am.

    Continue on...


    Tara Imani, AIA, NCIDQ, ASID, CSI
    Registered Architect + Interior Designer

    Tara Imani Designs, LLC
    10333 Richmond Avenue, Suite 170
    Houston, TX 77042

    Work/Mobile Ph: 832-723-1798

  • 17.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-13-2019 08:32
    I have never been a principal but I will tell you this would not go over well.  When I left my previous firm (which was already pretty flexible) I was surprised by how empowering it was to have complete trust by my current boss who just says "you're a professional, get your work done on time, be fair to the division, and keep me posted if you need help."  I get it, cell phone addiction is a real problem (I battle it myself) but you need to treat people like adults.

    If you enact a formal regulation, your team will nitpick every action you make.  Every time you pull out your phone for a personal call.  Every time you look down at your phone take a text or email.  Every time you ask them to stay overtime, especially if they are on salary.  Every time you walk into the office five minutes late.  Every time they see a personal web page pulled up on your laptop. The resentment will get ugly.

    I agree with the other responses on this thread, you need tackle the tangible problem directly.  If errors are your concern, work with your team on that.  One of the solutions is coaching them on properly managing digital distractions, but you also need to take the time to install a robust QAQC system.  You also need to protect your team and have those difficult conversations with clients who try to impose unrealistic deadlines.  Set your team up for success.  Develop rapport with your staff, so each of them know the firm standards and they are motivated to excel with each issuance.  But building a cell phone cage is just taking the easy way out.

    Justus Pang AIA
    Nevada State Public Works Division
    Las Vegas NV

  • 18.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-13-2019 08:52
    Or from another angle, how would you like it if someone confiscated your phone for eight hours a day?

    Would you want employees who just go along with such a rule?

    I could imagine a scenario where it is liberating to have a completely cell free office.  But I think it's far more likely that you will instill a command and control culture for those who stay.  And if that happens, are you going to be able to attract and retain individuals who are proactive and take ownership in their work?

    Justus Pang
    Nevada State Public Works Division
    Las Vegas NV

  • 19.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-13-2019 10:21
    You must be joking. Asking people to give up their phones is equivalent to asking women to leave the purses. Today's cellphone is a required item, and everyone needs to use them while working, for both business and personal reasons.

    A better approach is to recognize that most employees can properly balance phone use and work. For those who have trouble, a short discussion should cure the problem.

    Jerry Roller AIA
    JKRP Architects
    Philadelphia PA

  • 20.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-13-2019 12:53

    When I started here, I was told regarding work hours and cell phones, that we were adults and did not need a monitor for our behavior. I come in earlysome days and leave early or come in late and leave late, so long as I'm here from 9 to 4. My cell phone is muted on my desk where I can see it and respond if I need to. I don't like topublish my personal life, so leave the office during lunch if I have personal business.

  • 21.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-14-2019 20:44
    My firm provides cell phones for many employees. Being mobile is essential! If you chain me to a desk, I will be inefficient and unhappy. My clients expect to reach me when they call. If I am not at my desk which is frequent, I need a cell phone to be reachable. Our computers are mobile too and all our docs are accessed via VPN. This allows me to work anywhere! I must say that is a fairly arcane if not parochial attitude. That is like walking into a meeting and having the organizer demand your phones be turned off. Etiquette aside, I use my phone to gather information to answer questions about meeting content, scheduling, pull up drawings, verify submittals and so much more. Next is he going to ask them to turn in their notes at the end of a meeting? Who are you working for. the CIA? 

    Did you brush up your resume?

  • 22.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-15-2019 18:49
    If your employees are creating a significant amount of errors, the problem is likely greater than cell phone use ( lack of supervision and mentoring, etc.) I always caution managers to deal with the individual rather than punish the entire group. After 35 years I try to pick battles I can win.

    Michael Kadow AIA
    President / Principal Architect
    Somerville, Inc.
    Green Bay WI

  • 23.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-16-2019 10:42
    Seth Godin always seems to bring clarity and insight that one can apply to most any situation. From today's blog post:
    Leaders create the conditions where people choose new actions.
    The choices are voluntary. They're made by people who see a new landscape, new opportunities and new options.
    You can't make people change. But you can create an environment where they choose to.

    Timothy J. Frank, AIA
    Indianapolis IN

  • 24.  RE: Cellular next to keyboard?

    Posted 08-17-2019 15:53
    If I were at that firm, I would leave too! that rule is draconian, unfriendly to families, and shows enormous distrust of employees. If my son's school is calling because he is sick, I will need to respond right away - not when I can take a moment to check my phone in a remote cubby. If distraction and errors are too abundant, look to yourself and your management first. Do you mentor the senior design staff to do things in a way that minimizes errors? do you teach people how to do the tasks you're asking of them? how are documents reviewed and corrections made? There are many ways to decrease errors and increase focus, but removing people's cell phones is not one of them.

    In a time where people can pick and choose where to go, and you need to have an open, trusting, productive workplace environment to keep the best talent, this is an enormous misstep in my opinion.

    -Kristen Nyht

    Kristen Nyht AIA
    Senior Architect
    Quinn Evans Architects
    Ann Arbor MI