3.24.15 cell phoneWe all love our smartphones. Having access to a world of information in the palm of your hand is a truly astounding feature of modern life. And being able to connect with anyone in your social sphere almost instantly - to update your Facebook status, send a tweet or email, and check for responses - can lead to an almost compulsive attachment to the screens we carry around.

But when you are an employer, you begin to see that this kind of attachment to personal devices takes on new significance. It has been estimated that billions of dollars are lost every year in employee productivity in the U.S. because of Internet misuse. A lot of that, of course, is because of time spent on recreational web surfing at company-supplied desktop computers, but, as I have heard from dentists, for many employees who are perhaps waiting for instruments to be sterilized or are experiencing some slow time between patients, having Facebook in their pocket becomes an irresistible distraction.

If you think this could be an issue in your practice, remember that it is entirely reasonable for you to request that team members leave their devices in the staff room and restrict their use to their break times. One of the more common employee objections to a "no cell phone" rule is that they need one so they can be contacted in case of emergency - but that is hardly a concern in an environment such as a dental practice, where nobody is ever more than a few steps away from an office phone.

What about in specialist practices, where you might have one liaison person who is responsible for maintaining contact with referring practices and doctors? In that case, it makes sense for that person to carry a phone so they can be contacted quickly and directly. This subject came up recently in a discussion I moderated that involved a few specialists and restorative dentists, and it was agreed that in that situation the practice should be providing the phone for that purpose. That way, as owner of the device, you decide what apps are relevant and necessary to be on there. Furthermore, if that employee moves on, that phone - with all its crucial professional contact data - remains with you.

Of course, you know your team well and you probably have a pretty good idea of whether a policy restricting personal devices in the office is necessary. But whether you introduce such a policy or not, there are things you can do to ensure that team members keep their minds in the game.

As always, it comes back to expectations and accountability. If you, or your office manager, are clear about the tasks that need to be performed each day for each job role, including things that need to be accomplished during "slow" times, team members will have a continuous line of sight for what to do next, and you won't have to monitor their movements so closely. Their results will speak to their use of time.