Fighting for Focus at Fabuwood // Joel Epstein, the CEO of Fabuwood, decided to change his company’s policy about smartphones.

A recent article published in The Washington Post bore the headline “What the Pentagon Has Learned From Two Years of War in Ukraine,” promising revelations and insights into military tactics and policies. The first lesson that was revealed, however, was quite a surprise. It was summed up in a statement by Army Major General Curtis Taylor, who oversees war games in the Mojave Desert: “This device is going to get our soldiers killed,” he said as he held up a smartphone.
For the US military, an addiction to smartphones means that troops are unwittingly giving away their position to enemy forces and otherwise endangering themselves and others. That is one reason their use needs to be limited, monitored and controlled.
But the conclusion that smartphones are a problem in the workplace isn’t limited to the military. Several weeks ago, The New York Times had a surprisingly positive article about how a chasidic-owned company—the custom-cabinetry manufacturer Fabuwood—had banished smartphones at work and was convincing many employees to forgo them even at home. The article, entitled “A Practical Guide to Quitting Your Smartphone,” touted the benefits of discarding smartphones both for workplace productivity and general life enhancement.
In fact, when Joel Epstein, the CEO of Fabuwood, made the decision to engineer that change at his company, he made no reference to the spiritual reasons someone would eschew having a smartphone, even though he believes strongly in those principles. “I didn’t want to touch on the issue of Yiddishkeit at all,” he said, as many of his employees aren’t Jewish and come from diverse backgrounds. “It’s not my place to do so.” He explained that offering spiritual guidance is the role of one’s rav. Instead, he cited clear productivity issues that smartphones were causing and how they were affecting the company’s bottom line.
His hunch proved to be correct. Despite the fact that pivoting away from smartphones entailed a significant financial expense, the company found that the resultant increase in productivity brought in revenue that far outweighed those costs.
Moreover, under the direction of Mr. Epstein, Fabuwood did more than change its own workplace. It also created a program to spread that vision to other companies.
To better understand how smartphones were dealt with at Fabuwood and the consequences of that move, as well as how other companies might go about following its example, I spoke to Mr. Epstein and several Fabuwood employees about their vision and the very practical ways they went about achieving it.

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