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Cellphones on the farm are a problem

Mark Andrew Junkin for Progressive Dairyman Published on 25 August 2017

There are family members and employees who use their cellphones too much these days. They are texting everyone, watching Youtube videos or getting up-to-date with their Facebook feed instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing: working.

On the flip side, there are some family members who don’t carry cellphones or use them so sparingly smoke signals would be a more direct form of communication. Both of these communication strategies are counterproductive to getting work done. This often comes up as a point of contention on many farms I work with.

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I find the following 10-point phone policy eliminates a lot of bickering within families:

1. Set a strict policy of no texting or answering phones while driving on the highway. Period.

2. For farm safety purposes, everyone should keep their cellphone within reach, and the phone must be powered-on always. It’s a farm safety issue. To have a cellphone is like wearing steel-toed boots. If you don’t have either, you don’t work at the farm.

3. Ask yourself: What apps can each of your farm’s employees download that would make your farm more efficient? Wunderlist (look it up) can help your family set up to-do lists that can be shared between family members’ phones and can really improve farm productivity.

For instance, Linda writes down “need 7/16 bolts” after noticing inventory is low and then, when Jake is in town the following week to pick up a generator, he can also pick up the bolts and any other parts listed by Linda or another employee the week before. The same app can also be used to assign “little jobs” you see that need to be done.

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Employees can then read off that task list during their slow time without having to come to you for instructions. There are a few good apps that can really improve productivity if used right – Pokémon is not one of them.

4. Consider using GPS tracking on each owner/employee’s phone to track movement. The collection of this data and its professional analysis will reveal a multitude of ways to improve operational efficiencies.

5. Set separate ringtones for farm employees/business suppliers. Only business calls can be taken during business hours, and other calls can wait until you have a break. Set a policy that each person gets one three-minute personal call per day during business hours, but that is it.

Personal calls or texts are to be made during breaks – not when you are working. Set a policy that if you or any person is caught messing around on the phone during business hours, any person can call him out on it and insist on 20 push-ups right then/there as punishment. This works.

6. Many dairy owners like being unreachable during working hours, but they are only considering their personal needs, not the frustration of the family members trying to reach them. This breakdown in communication will eventually lead to a breakdown in the partnership if you are not careful. Use common sense.

7. If the same person is aggressively trying to reach you, it’s most likely important and you need to answer. Set a farm policy that if you get two calls or texts from someone within a minute, you should drop what you are doing to return the call. However, you can only call somebody twice within a week in this way or else they have to buy you a coffee or another favorite beverage.

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8. If you are checking Facebook more than seven times a day, you are lonely. Ask yourself what you can do to get more human interaction and to get a better-quality life. Write down specific actions that you can do this month to fix this problem (i.e., visit four friends) and get it done.

9. Set the boundary of no business calls outside of working hours – unless there is a barn burning down. If you worked in town, you wouldn’t call a co-worker at 9:30 p.m. about a clerical error. Don’t do this with family. Too often, family members are contacting one another about frivolous things at inappropriate times.

Try to minimize your calls to your business partners a few times a day during business hours. It’s an issue of setting boundaries for space and personal privacy.

10. Have a conference call between family members at dawn and high noon. This five-minute call should discuss who is doing what, when and how. It should also cover any decisions that need to be made so all family members are involved in decision-making before the farm makes a commitment. This five-minute call will eliminate 80 percent of your calls and 80 percent of your bickering.

Note: Of all the above suggestions, consider implementing No. 10 (conference call at dawn/noon) the most. It’s one action that will eliminate a lot of miscommunication, frustration and cut your phone bill in half.

Each generation struggles with new technology. Good managers learn how to use it effectively; poor managers cuss about it and say, “Kids these days.” Cellphones are a tool that can improve any farm’s productivity, but it’s also a technology wasting a lot of man-hours due to misuse.

Having a conversation within your family can make a big difference in whether this technology is a positive or negative on your farm.  end mark

Mark Andrew Junkin

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