Technology has made everything we do each day easier. We can navigate our way to a meeting, host a video chat with a client in Dubai, and check work emails from the golf course.
But all of this instant access has a price. As workers struggle to adapt to a workplace teeming with smartphones and tablets, it’s easy to make mistakes that can not only annoy co-workers, but damage reputations and destroy careers. If you find you’re focusing on your devices more than the people around you, you may be breaking the rules of technology etiquette. Here are a few guidelines for using technology in the office.
Don’t check email mid-conversation
Don’t allow your attention to drift to your computer screen or your smartphone while in a conversation with someone. When you ignore the colleague in front of you to check your buzzing cell, you’re actually sending the message that something else is more important than the conversation at hand. You’re also making it clear that you don’t value your co-worker’s time, which may soon result in that person seeking conversations with someone else.
Don’t wear headphones in communal areas
For some employees, headphones are a great way to tune out distractions to focus on the task at hand. But when you step away from your desk to use the restroom or drop off something in the mail room, leave the headphones at your desk. This is also true of Bluetooth headset. Nothing annoys co-workers more than trying to decipher whether you’re on a phone call or not every time they see you.
Lose the speakerphone
A Bluetooth headset is far more preferable to speakerphone. Speakerphones are for conference calls involving multiple people in a room with a closed door. Speakerphones are not for one-on-one calls held in a cubicle because you can’t be bothered to hold the handset to your ear. Believe it or not, other people in your office have work to do, as well. One other thing to keep in mind: your clients and vendors may not be so happy with being broadcast through your building.
Pay attention during meetings
Yes, your BlackBerry’s buzzing. Yes, it could be important. But if you think no one in the room is noticing you’re spending entire meetings on your phone, you’re wrong. If you must be reachable at all times, give your phone only cursory glances when you’re in a meeting, saving your responses until later. It’s important your co-workers feel you’re part of the team, which includes being an active participant in every meeting you attend.
Silence your cell phone
These days, movie theater audiences can’t get through the previews without at least one reminder to put all cell phones on silent. The same rule should apply to any business meeting. If your work-related cell phone must stay on vibrate, be sure it’s on the lowest setting and keep it holstered. Buzzing cell phones can be just as distracting as
ringers. In fact, as a courtesy to co-workers, you should leave your cell phone on silent at all times while you’re in an office setting. Nobody wants to hear your ringtone 700 times a day.
Use your inside voice
For some reason, people feel the need to speak more loudly when they’re conversing on a cell phone, especially if the connection isn’t as strong as it should be. The person at the other end of the line can hear you clearly if you speak in a normal tone of voice and those in the office around you will thank you for your courtesy.
Be sparing with “Urgent” emails
If you mark everything as “urgent,” eventually nobody will pay attention to anything you send. Before upping the importance of an email, ask yourself if the person at the other end will see the message as a high priority. Also, make sure each message’s subject line clearly states the purpose of the message inside to prevent messages being accidentally discarded as irrelevant.
Be sparing with CCs
Before copying everyone from the cleaning person to the CEO on an e-mail, consider whether the information is relevant. While there are some issues certain key parties need to know about, if you involve the higher-ups in everything, you may be perceived as someone who is unable to make decisions without assistance. Workers should also use caution when CC-ing co-workers’ supervisors on emails. When done a certain way, this can have a tattletale-like impact that rubs those co-workers the wrong way.
Avoid text shorthand
While it might be okay to send a message to a buddy or spouse with text shorthand, avoid such behavior at work. Even if you’re instant messaging or texting a business associate, use proper grammar and complete, well-punctuated sentences. “U busy” doesn’t look as professional as, “Are you busy?”
Keep emails professional
Email is not the place to share office gossip. As a general rule, never put anything in email you wouldn’t say to someone directly. In many cases, once someone hits “send” on an email, there’s no way to get that email back. An email can easily be forwarded or misdirected, inadvertently ending up in the inbox of the very person who is the topic of conversation. If that happens, be prepared for years of awkward staff meetings and company parties.
Sure, constantly staring at your phone can make you look like you’re a busy, important person, but if you’re staring down at the device in your hand while you’re navigating through the office, running headlong into something or someone is the least of your worries. Hallways and elevators provide the perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone, possibly making a connection that can help your career.
Stay away from co-workers on social media
If at all possible, set your social media profiles to private and avoid befriending colleagues on your personal social networking sites. You may want to set up a professional site on Facebook and Twitter to accommodate your networking needs. If you must add co-workers, be sure to avoid posting anything you wouldn’t want your boss to know about. Even a private social media page won’t be private for long if co-workers decide to show your boss what they’ve found.
Technology has come a long way since the first books on etiquette were published. One thing hasn’t changed, though. Etiquette is simply being considerate of those around you and treating others the way you would want to be treated. By doing that, you can continue to move forward in your career while using the best tools available today.