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Best practices for cell phones on the manufacturing floor

Do you have a clear and consistently followed cell phone policy for your factory floor?

We summarized best practices from manufacturers on how they police cell phone usage in their plants. There are several different flavors of cell phone policies, so we listed a couple popular options and identified the pros and cons of each type of policy. You might find that you pick and choose from these options to create the policy that is best for you.


"Zero Tolerance" Policy

30% of the manufacturers we spoke with have a hard ZERO tolerance policy for phones on the floor. Most of these facilities are heavily regulated (such as BRCGS) and require cell phones to be placed in a locker before manufacturing employees enter the floor. Did you know that your cell phone is 10x dirtier than a toilet seat? I can see why you wouldn't want that in a manufacturing area.

One Plant Manager cited that employees would be sent home for the day if they were found with a cell phone in a production area. That standard applies to front line workers and managers. He said, "really it is just as simple as setting the standard and enforcing it."

Emergency communication

Employees that don't have access to a cell phone on the floor have no emergency communication line. One manufacturer cited that 50+ calls were being routed through the main plant answering desk and creating a lot of unnecessary work for the admin team. That outdated method of paging an employee who has a phone call isn't worth the hassle to many teams.

It just doesn't work

Most people are going to bring their cell phone on the floor anyways. According to one manager, 80% of people are going to find a way to use their phones. People will try to hide them in a pocket or somewhere else on their person so that they can have access to it when no one is looking. This created an awkward and unnecessary issue between managers who can clearly see a phone in the pocket but don't want qualify for a "search and seizure," because "after all, this is still America last time I checked" says a plant manager.

The PROs

Clear and consistent standards create an environment where employees know what is expected of them at all times.

The CONs

Challenges mentioned above are too significant for many employers to adopt this hard and fast attitude. One employer who was trying to enforce this policy was looking at installing cell phone signal scramblers specifically in the bathrooms to prevent people from clogging the stalls to text and scroll.

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"Only in Designated Areas" Policy

Employers with this type of policy have a few best practices to help employees stay safe while operating their devices and stay productive while they are on the clock.

Designated "safe zone" on the manufacturing floor

This is a spot on the floor clearly marked for cell phone usage. Often this area is close enough to the manufacturing environment that employees can still see and be alerted to an issue, but far enough away that they can't really do their job from that zone.

Require a "spotter" for usage

This practice required the employee who wanted to use their phone to find someone and have them stand next to them and "spot" them while they take care of business on the phone. One plant manager cited that he saw a great reduction in unnecessary cell phone usage after adopting this policy.

No "walk and talk" policy on usage

As a safety issue, the employees who are using a cell phones are required to have both feet planted on the ground and can't be moving. Sometimes they aren't even allowed to stop in a walkway or aisle to prevent the pileup of people behind them.

The PROs

With a reasonable policy, employees are comfortable knowing that they can attend to personal matters while working, but they don't have free rein to do that whenever and wherever. 

The CONs 

A fuzzy policy can be abused by people and might be reinforced inconsistently by managers. Most manufacturing leaders agree that if a few people are taking advantage of the policy, it is best to address the few people rather than to change the policy for the whole group.


"Be smart about it" Policy

A few employers have so much trust in their employees that they have a more relaxed policy that allows the employees to make good decisions about their phones.

Listen while we work

Offer employees the option to listen to music while they are working. Listening to music can increase focus, but the output of work should be closely monitored. One employer instituted a safety policy requiring the employee to only wear one ear-bud when listening to music. This plant leader identified that quality was decreasing because people were distracted and has since had to change the policy, but this could be a productive idea for some teams.

We trust you

Allow employees to have their phones on their person while working. This kind of policy can be best utilized when the employee's expectations are very clear and there is a clear performance management system in the plant. If the employee's result output (preferably displayed real time to others in the plant) suffers due to distraction from a phone, then there is a clear performance conversation and decision to be made about the future of that employee. If you have a performance management system like Ampogee helping to engage your front line workers in the goals of the business, they are already incentivized to work to their best capability. You will be able to tell who are your most productive workers every day, and you won't need to be on the floor monitoring who is on their phones when you have concrete performance data.

Read more about Employee Engagement

Allow smart watches

If you allow employees to wear smart watches and devices on their person, they may be less inclined to look at their phones during the shift. This way, people can still get relevant texts and emails while they are working, but they aren't as tempted to mindlessly scroll through facebook or instagram.

The PROs

People enjoy being treated like adults. Most office environments are creating policies that reflect an "adult business deal" such as this idea, and why should manufacturing be any different? If employees are freely given respect and autonomy to make decisions, you might be surprised how they rise to the occasion.

The CONs 

A few abuses of this privilege can ruin it for everyone. One employer found that associates were watching sporting events on nights and weekends, which was hard to police without a lot of management intervention during non business hours.


"Use it to our advantage" Policy

The most lenient of policies is adopted by the most progressive companies. These companies have identified the impact that the connected mobile device can have on business results, and they are looking to leverage their workforce.

There's an app for that

With more and more connected devices on the manufacturing floor, there are more ways to empower your teams to have the most relevant and timely data right to their pocket. Need to see how the equipment is running right now, there are apps that can show leaders and associates all the data they need with just a tap on their phone. Some apps, like Ampogee, can connect to a TV display so that you aren't looking at your phone, but instead seeing the display as you pass by it on the factory floor.

Company paperwork elimination

One company we spoke with has QR codes around their plant to track attendance at events and trainings. The world is your oyster here. I'm even envisioning a QR code at every stop on your leadership standard work or centerline checks as the ultimate management operation system.

Issue communication

When you have a stop or issue on the manufacturing floor, a cell phone is the easiest way to snap a picture or video of the issue and involve the process expert, the maintenance team, the operations leader, or another subject matter expert. Many problems are solved much faster when someone can view a photo or video from afar and get on the phone to help immediately.

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The PROs

This policy can unleash the power of your people. Armed with their phones they can come up with creative ways to solve problems and meet the business needs better than you could have ever imaged. 

The CONs 

You might spend more time questioning the usage of phones and policing the abusers than you want to. If the policy starts eating into your managers time to do other work, you should re-evaluate the benefits of this approach.

Other helpful tips

No matter what type of policy you adopt, there are a few things you can do to help your team adhere to your chosen policy.

Install clocks

Sometimes people need to know what time it is and a cell phone is the easiest way to do that. Install clocks (preferably smart ones that sync automatically) to help your associates know what time it is and other relevant information without having to pull out their phone. We found an atomic clock that sets the time and date automatically for under $20 with prime shipping on Amazon.

Keep it consistent for everyone

If you have a policy for front line employees on the floor, managers and other leaders must be held to the same standard. One plant manager said that she knows that she has to lead by example, so she doesn't even have her phone in her pocket on the floor.

Cell phone addiction is real

People really do get a dopamine kick from the "likes," as Simon Sinek explains in this video. They use their phones to interact with society and may feel depressed and unproductive without it by their side. You have to determine if that impact is going to cause you to lose good talent and limit your potential as a company.

Blended usage

Ampogee decided to create an iPad application for our users to help them create clear boundaries between using tablets for work and using cell phones for fun. Our case studies prove that allowing the entire manufacturing plant to have access to real time performance data from the floor can increase employee engagement and productivity at the same time. Depending on the priorities of the customer, we have often "locked down" the iPads to only have approved applications on the devices (not even Safari is allowed sometimes). You can find creative solutions to help keep your employees focused and improve your business results.

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Jennifer Biggs
Jennifer Biggs
Jennfier has a passion for leading and motivating teams through cultural transformations. She believes that people come to work everyday to be great. Through her operational experience at P&G Manufacturing, she has seen the true potential of an engaged and empowered team. She joined Ampogee in 2018 after 7 years of Manufacturing Operations experience. She has an Executive MBA from UNC Chapel Hill and a BS in Chemical Engineering from NC State University.

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