Conservative MP, Nigel Mills, has made headlines recently after being caught playing Candy Crush during a lengthy Work and Pensions Committee meeting on pensions. While not sounding like the most riveting of meetings, reports suggested the MP played the game over the course of two and a half hours. Despite the long play time, Mr Mills attempted to downplay the reports and told the newspaper concerned that, although he “probably had a game or two”, this did not prevent him being “fully engaged” in the meeting.
Whilst David Cameron defended Mr Mills by describing him as a “very hard-working” MP, I doubt many employers would share Mr Mills’ view that he was nevertheless “fully engaged”. In fact, Mr Mills has since apologised unreservedly and admitted that he realises his conduct “fell short of what is expected of a member of parliament”.
The issue is an interesting one in today’s age of instant electronic communication. Many businesses recognise the benefits of working whilst away from your desk; whether it be checking emails by phone on the train or making notes in meetings. Indeed, the vast share of Blackberry’s business and success came from being the first provider to successfully market and provide a desktop email experience on a mobile phone for business users.
To this end, many businesses now allow tablets and laptops into meetings. Whilst undoubtedly useful, these devices naturally invite temptation during long meetings when compared to the old-fashioned pen and paper, particularly when Angry Birds is just a finger touch away.
The issue for employers is ensuring that productivity isn’t adversely affected by excessive use of tablets and phones to the detriment of an individual employee’s workload. The other obvious concern is ensuring that the professional reputation of the employer is not harmed by third parties noticing the use of non-work related apps on electronic devices during working hours.
The rules setting out what an employee can and can’t do are typically found in their Contract of Employment and Employee Handbook. These policies tend to include conduct rules relating to use of email, internet and the telephone but don’t always focus on appropriate use of newer forms of technology, such as tablets.
The main issue of regulating the use of tablets and laptops in meetings is having sight of the screen. Naturally, no-one is likely to pass their time distracting themselves with a good game of Flappy Bird if half the personnel at the meeting can see the screen.
Nigel Mills made the rookie error of playing Candy Crush whilst sitting in front of an observer. As an aside, I have many such experiences of viewing individuals playing games on electronic devices instead of making notes. However, this occurred in University lecture theatres with tired students playing Football Manager or Solitaire, which is in marked contrast to a workplace meeting or parliamentary committee…
So, what can an employer do to combat loss of working time through technology-based distractions? An employer can handle any dispute on this issue much more clearly if there is an in-depth electronic use policy and effective office training covering ALL forms of modern technology. Many employers will feel that their electronic use policy is lacking and needs additional provisions to cover the newer forms of technology. Expert HR or employment law advice would, naturally, be a great help in formulating such a policy.
Without wanting to commit to a Tomorrow’s World-esque prediction, the next emerging technology likely to impact the workplace is Google Glass. This is a pair of glasses with the ability to record video and receive and send information and emails.
Naturally, I’ll wait for my prediction to come true before blogging on that topic, but it would be no surprise to find myself reading about an employee or MP being caught out playing games on Google Glass during a meeting in a few years…