6 Rules for Texting at Work

Chinese businesswoman using mobile phone, portrait

By Hallie Crawford

In today's high-tech world, texting is increasingly replacing the more traditional phone call. A 2011 Pew Research Center report found that Americans ages 18 to 29 send or receive an average of 88 texts per day, compared to 17 phone calls. A few years later, we can safely assume the trend continues.

Texting can be a useful method of communication in many circumstances, personally and professionally. But, just like anything else, when you cross the line into the professional realm, you need to be mindful of what you're doing and whether that method of communication is the best one to use for whatever you're trying to accomplish in that moment. You should also consider if texting at the time you are choosing to do so is the right message to send to those around you.

So when deciding to text on the job, here are a few things to keep in mind before you hit "send."

1. Don't send personal texts. While this seems obvious, many employees lose important, productive work hours by spending too much time on personal devices. If you want to be productive, use your work time wisely, make your boss happy and climb the corporate ladder, respond to your personal texts only at certain times of the day. Text during your lunch hour, at breaks you take outside the office or after you clock out.

Action step: Let your close friends and family members know that you're unavailable during work hours. This can be done by writing something like "at work, unavailable" on various messaging apps. If there is an emergency, let them know they are free to call the office. Or choose the times during the day that you can respond, and let them know you're doing that so they have a heads up.

2. Check your employee handbook. Some companies have a policy regarding the use of cell phones during work hours, and some do not. It's better to err on the side of caution and find out if they do.

Action step: Read your employee handbook, or check with your human resources department if you have questions. If there is no formal policy in place, use your head. You know when it's appropriate to be on your phone and when it isn't.

3. Follow office etiquette. If there is no formal policy in place, let the office ambiance be your guide. If none of your fellow employees are using their phones, put yours away, or step outside if it's urgent.

Action step: Be observant. Watch how others in your office – especially your boss – use their cell phones and how often. Follow that basic etiquette, and be even more cautious than they are. If necessary, ask a peer you trust how they normally handle the use of their cell phone.

4. Only text when it's important. Text fellow employees or your boss only when you need an urgent response and if you've learned over time that this method of communication works for them. Skip the "Hey, how are you," and go straight to the point. You don't want to start a conversation, and when your boss sees "Need response ASAP," you will be more likely to get a reply.

Action step: Ask yourself how urgent your question is before you write a text. If you need to ask more than one or two questions, just pick up the phone.

5. Don't text during meetings. This is never a good idea, even if you are not actively involved in the meeting or don't need to be. Others will notice, and it will negatively impact your image. If there is an urgent text you need to send or respond to for some reason, step outside right away and handle it outside the meeting.

Action step: Put your phone on vibrate during a meeting only if you are expecting an important work call or text of an emergency personal nature. Otherwise, leave it at your desk. It can wait.

6. Do not use emojis. Emoticons should always be avoided in the workplace. They are easy to take out of context and don't give off a professional vibe.

Action step: Control your urge to send the smiley face. Keep it professional.