(By Hallie Crawford)
Cellphones can be an asset and a burden in the workplace. We all know the pros and cons. No longer are we restricted to the length of the phone cord. Clients or employers can call not only our office phones, but also our cellphone directly to reach us immediately. Vendors with a crisis can talk to us immediately to get a response. We have the option of texting during meetings if we have to, when we can’t talk on the phone. Our phones permit us to work long distance, attend to work emails while traveling or solve a work crisis while on vacation if needed. They allow for enormous freedom and accessibility in many ways.
But the cons are the same – the accessibility and the possibility of not handling our phones in a professional manner at work. Because cellphone use has become so common in our personal lives, for example, how many people out to dinner do you see with their phones on the table? Look around next time.
We can fall into the trap of using our phones too frequently in the workplace. The problem is not just the possibility of violating company policy regarding the use of phones or texting during meetings, but also the lack of professionalism you may portray by inappropriately using your phone.
Cellphone use at work can be a slippery slope. One thing can lead to another, and – without realizing it – we may fall into seemingly small bad habits that can end up having a big impact on how we are viewed in the workplace. If you feel you are falling into some bad habits regarding your phone, review this list to rein in your behavior to a more appropriate zone.
1. Check company policy, but also follow common courtesy. Some companies are stricter than others. So, check with your boss or human resources department to get the rules straight – especially if you’ve just started a new job.
However, don’t just go by the rules, because maybe your office doesn’t have a specific policy. Think about how you want to be treated in the workplace and how others behave. Does your boss have an opinion about personal phone calls or bringing cellphones into meetings? Don’t put your phone on the table with a co-worker or your boss unless you are expecting an urgent call. And if you are, let them know you are. Err on the side of not having your phone in meetings, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Or at least make sure the phone is on silent. Again, this will depend on company policy.
Action tip: Aside from checking with your HR department, be observant. Does your boss take a lot of personal calls? What do your workmates who have been with the company for a long time do? Follow their leads, and use common sense. Even if your company is a heavy cellphone-usage organization, remember you are still sending a message by how you use your phone. Is it the right one?
2. If necessary, let family and friends know your work hours. If your friends or family members contact you often at work, and it’s becoming a distraction, alert them to times you are not available for phone calls. If they text you often, don’t respond right away; wait until a time that you can, even if it’s after hours, so you are not encouraging their behavior and training them to expect your responses right away. Both of these strategies can help control the amount of personal calls and texts you get during the day.
Try adjusting your phone settings when in meetings and when you are working on a project that requires quiet and focus. Set your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb,’ send your calls directly to voicemail or simply turn the ringer to silent if possible. Let family and friends know that, in emergencies, they can call your office line (if that’s preferable), but first qualify what an emergency really is.
Also turn off your email push notifications, so you won’t be tempted to check your favorite store’s sale mail until your work break. Your co-workers will also thank you, because they won’t hear your audible notifications.
Action tip: If it’s hard for friends and family to keep work hours straight, don’t feel the need to always have to remind them sternly about calling you. Don’t blame them for bad memory; just control it on your end.
This is extreme, but if you’re in a job that requires your full attention for a certain period of the day, clarify that in your voicemail. Try something like “You have reached [your name]. I will be working until 3 p.m. today, so please leave a message, and I will get back to you after that. If this is an emergency, please send me a text message or call my direct office line.”
3. If you do take a phone call and work in close quarters with your co-workers, be considerate.Not everyone wants to know about your weekend plans, your sister’s breakup or the details of your teenage daughter’s outfit while they are trying to handle their work assignments.
Action tip: Consider how you feel when you hear everyone’s personal conversations while you are trying to focus on work. Respect your co-workers’ space, and take your call elsewhere. You can do so by stepping outside, going to a conference room or moving to a corner of the office where there are fewer people. And keep your voice quiet.
4. On the opposite end, when you call into the office, be mindful. If you are working at home for the day or travelling on vacation or for business, be aware, and watch what you say. If your kids are acting up, be careful not to scold them while you are on the phone with your boss. And don’t yell at your dog for barking at the mailman. Sometimes, when we are in the comfort of our own home, we forget we need to be professional during business calls.
Also pay attention to how loud it is in the space you are in and how loudly you are talking. Don’t call to follow up on a job from a gate at the airport, for example, because someone could come on over the loudspeaker and interrupt your conversation. If you have to make a call at a certain time but you’re not in the right “zone” mentally or physically, find a quiet space, or reschedule the call.
Action tip: Before you make that work-related call from your home or while on vacation or travelling, step back. Take a breath to get into the right frame of mind to have the call. Make sure you are in an appropriate physical location to make the call and truly focus.
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