How to Quit Your Smartphone

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Last May, Fabuwood, a kitchen cabinet manufacturer in Newark, instituted a new company policy: No phones allowed during meetings.

To enforce it, the company installed “device shelves” outside each of its six glass-walled conference rooms. On a recent Wednesday morning, there were animated meetings in three of the conference rooms, and the shelves outside were full of smartphones, tablets and ’90s-style flip phones. The 1,200-person company pays the cost of a flip phone for anyone who gives up their smartphone, and 80 people have acted on the offer.

Surprisingly, employees say they like it. Rena Stoff, a project manager, said that while at first she hated the idea of being deprived of her smartphone, she now finds it has made meetings — that she once found boring and unnecessary — engaging and productive.

“Having the phone away from me has almost made my brain more open to information,” she said.

Fabuwood’s founder and chief executive, Joel Epstein, was motivated by his personal belief that smartphones are “destroying our personal and professional lives.”

He started using a flip phone seven years ago after developing carpal tunnel symptoms in his hands from near-constant use of his BlackBerry. He said that he slept better, felt more productive at work and had more meaningful communications. Mr. Epstein, a Hasidic Jew, said his choice of device was not unusual in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, which encourages the use of “kosher phones” with limited internet access.

Last year, Mr. Epstein queried Fabuwood managers on how often their workers were on their phones; they estimated two hours per day on average. He asked a warehouse safety officer, whose job typically entails monitoring for unsafe conditions, to secretly document each time he saw an employee using a phone in the office. Mr. Epstein said that many of the company’s poorest performers were on the list.

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How to Quit Your Smartphone

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