When Marty Kotis looked at his company's monthly wireless bill, he found a stunning charge — for 2,500 text messages on a single staffer's phone.
There was more: Another staffer had 800, and a third, 700.
But Kotis, who owns a real estate development firm in Greensboro, N.C., didn't reprimand his employees, although many of the messages were personal in nature. Instead, he put it all into perspective.
"The people that had the high text numbers are very good at their jobs," said Kotis, president of Kotis Properties. "They worked weekends, extra hours. I had them do a lot of things for me outside of general work hours."
Just a few years ago, owners were adjusting to workers spending time surfing the Internet. Now, it's texting friends or communicating via Facebook or Twitter. And bosses are learning that as long as the work is getting done, it makes sense to let employees take high-tech breaks.
As Kotis pointed out, many staffers are also working well outside of business hours. "There is blending of work and personal time going on," he said, and so it's fair for employees to take some time during the work day for personal matters.
He said of his own company, "we give them things like work cell phones and ask them to carry them at 8 at night to take calls."
Clamping down on texting, Twitter and the like can give your workplace an unpleasant atmosphere — something that could ultimately hurt your productivity now, and make it hard for you to retain good employees, especially as the economy improves.
"You have to give an environment where people want to be," said Damian Bazadona, owner of Situation Interactive, a New York-based marketing firm. He also noted there's a quid-pro-quo in many businesses — the same people who are texting are often eating lunch at their desks.
Both Kotis and Bazadona noted that activities like texting and using Facebook and Twitter are more likely to be done by younger staffers, who use these tools to communicate with the entire world. That means they're probably using those communication channels for work, too. Kotis said one of his employees "pretty much did a deal through text."
The key is being sure that employees aren't abusing the privilege of spending personal time on the Internet or texting at work. Kotis recalled an employee who was sending and receiving personal e-mails during a meeting, and acting as if he was taking notes about the session on a laptop.
"He got fired on the spot for that," Kotis said.
Kotis' employee wasn't being discreet about e-mailing, so it was easy to catch him. But a lot of high-tech communicating is harder to detect.
Not to worry, Bazadona said, a worker's falling productivity will alert an owner to a problem.
"You can tell in their workload," he said, adding that co-workers who are pulling their weight are likely to let a boss know when someone else is goofing off.
Kotis said that hiring a solid, hard-working staff should mean that a small business will have few problems with employees spending too much time online or texting. In the few cases where that has happened, Kotis found when he questioned staffers they would acknowledge they've had too much high-tech down time.
Kotis said he approached a staffer who was spending too much time on Facebook, and the employee immediately cut back.
The staffer with the huge text bill didn't realize how many messages she had sent and received. She offered to pay for her personal messages, and told Kotis, "I want to let you know I'm not just wasting your time."