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8 Warnings about phone etiquette at work

Phone etiquette at workLet’s start with a tickler.

Ring Ring
Hello, who’ is it?
Aryan who?
Aryan you supposed to not answer the phone while in a meeting?

Yeah, it’s immature. Oh yes! And the joke too!

But let’s move on from the sillies and ponder.

We are a mobile generation. Remember about twenty years ago when only the real VIPs used to be carrying those big black cellphones with an antenna that stuck out a mile? You knew that anybody who had to carry that gadget had to have major power, managing a business like the TATAs or the BATAs. But then something happened over the next few years and our elbows got perpetually locked at a 23º angle.

If you had been somehow shielded from the telecommunication revolution you would have certainly been alarmed at the number of people seemingly talking, laughing and even screaming to themselves. And pretty soon you would have realized that it is not a contagious virus, just your whole life in your pocket – your calls, your messages, your emails.

As time went on this calling machine transformed itself from being your communicator to your very personal secretary. It was a phone, a camera, a TV, a video game, a map, a cab, a bank and even that curious thing called Siri!

So yes, our life is more convenient and more or less accessible, thanks to these gizmos. But there’s a flip, excuse the pun, side to this mobile obsession. Our lack of control over our cell phone habits. Tell us if this is true. You carry your phone everywhere like an appendage which can only be surgically removed when the next upgraded model shows up.

So, it is not surprising that it is a big part of your life even at work. While the discussion on the social implications, a cell phone has on your behavior, is a much more involved topic, we will stick to our realm of relevance – Cell Phone use at work. What are the right ways to use one?

Or rather, What kind of phone manners, should you mind, while using your cellphone at work?

1. Is there a policy?

Read your company policies. It is highly possible that they may have specific instructions against personal phone use. Well, in such a case this discussion is quite fruitless for you. Go ahead and enjoy the freedom of a hands-free, ear-free and distraction-free working environment.

And if they don’t really say it out loud, there is still a possibility that the general agreement is such that phone usage is frowned upon. Consider the opportunity as your rehab for your obsession.

Even if your boss has given you the freedom to yap, you should not use it as a license to kill company time. Use your phone wisely and follow the next few moves to keep your overused typing aid, your sore thumb, from sticking out like a sore thumb.

2. Try the silent treatment

Goes without saying, or ringing. First off, you don’t want everyone to know how popular you are, especially your boss. Also try not to set it to vibrate and then place it on your work station. It is bound to go off and buzz around the desk, making a ruckus worse than your Kanye ringtone.

Muffle the shuffle by placing it on your mousepad or something cushiony. Same goes for all the different notifications, including the ones from Candy Crush celebrating a launch of a hundred new levels!

3. Use your library voice

And if you really really had to answer your call, why would you want your coworkers to find out what you plan to have for dinner? Speak into the mic and as softly as you can. Just try to keep your conversation short and cut to the point asap. That goes even for work phones.

Most companies that issue office devices expect you to be prompt about receiving calls. But they too don’t expect you to be making a live broadcast of your satellite exchange. And whatever you do, never ever even think of hitting the speaker button. Unless in a room with five other people who want to join in the conference.

4. Get a room

That’s really the best way to go about it. Excuse yourself and find a privatish area before you answer the buzz. There might be an empty conference room, a small corner in the cafeteria, the well manicured garden or your car in the parking lot.

Don’t try to use the restroom as your calling cove. The person on the other end of the phone will certainly not appreciate the occasional sound of ablutions.

5. Call your Mom back in five

Use a similar trick, of excusing yourself to a private spot, when there is a personal call and the conversation is uncontainable in a quick monosyllabic chat. Let them know you will call back in a few and resume the discussion away from the office floor.

But do be careful of not repeating this pattern as there’s always someone who’s watching your working habits. Those 15 minute chats add up and may become a problem if your job seems to be struggling to be the center of your attention.

6. Meetings are not for greetings

To be safe, just avoid carrying your personal phone to meetings. If you absolutely have to, shut off the ringtones on both your work and personal phones. And never ever place your personal phone on the conference table, in your view. Sneaking a glance, every now and then, to see if there is a message or a missed call, is just as bad.

Courtesy demands that you participate in the meeting by listening and contributing. It would seem extremely irresponsible for you to be constantly checking in on your life outside that conference room. After all, it is just an hour or so. Wait it out.

And if there is a certain urgent call that you are expecting any time, just inform the meeting coordinator before hand. So when you do get the call, all you have to do is look extremely sorry and quietly glide out of the room. The coordinator will understand. Just don’t sit too far away from the door. That will make sneaking out a very unsneakable affair.

(Read Effective Presentation Skills at Meetings)

7. Chatting is just as bad

Yeah, there’s nothing redeeming about typing instead of talking on the phone, while in a meeting. Frankly, it is not just annoying, it is also quite disrespectful to anyone who is in your distracted presence. Just let it go.

Keep the phone away and take in the immediate surrounding you are in. If it helps, send in a ping over your group or personal chats mentioning that you will be unavailable for an hour or two, before you step into that room.

In fact, even when you are not in a meeting, and your coworker or boss shows up at your cube wanting to chat, shove the phone far away and give them the full attention they deserve for having bothered to walk up to talk with you in person.

Think of it this way. Haven’t you ever been irritated while say standing in a line, at your bank, waiting for the teller to finish his tete-a-tete with his pal on the phone?

So why do unto others as you would rather them not do unto you?

8. Don’t type or talk while you walk

This is just a safety concern, for you! A 2010 study by Ohio State University, showed that more than 1500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms for injuries due to distracted walking, thanks to their cellphones.

People get so engrossed in their chats or calls, that they sometimes completely get defocused off their environment. Hence the number of pedestrians getting hit while not paying attention to the traffic.

At work, hopefully there are no speeding vehicles on your office floor, but that doesn’t take the dangers away from talking on the phone while walking up or down the stairs, or tripping over a loose rug or cable while using your eyes to read the incoming Whatsapp messages instead. In fact, for some jobs, it can be a fatal decision to read your chat while say operating heavy machinery.

Is any message or call really worth risking your life for? Please watch your step while you wonder on that profound question.
Look, no one is asking you to lead a luddite lifestyle. These devices are there for your convenience after all and you should absolutely avail of them. But do know when to withdraw and show restraint. Your workplace is a zone where your performance and work ethics mean something.

Even if your boss is not all military about focus and discipline, you should still acknowledge the risks of disruptive or distractive working habits. Think about it this way – there was life before cellphones. Enjoy the retro lifestyle for a few hours.

Until then, kuchh na kaho, kuchh bhi na kaho!
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Rakhi Acharyya
About Rakhi Acharyya
Rakhi is a freelance writer, a Physics PhD from Michigan State University, an ex-teacher and a former employee of Corporate America. Follow her on Twitter.

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