Put down that phone! Advice for using cell phones at work

Do you leave your cell phone on or under the table at work meetings? Answering yes to either option may put your job at risk. Here's why ...



Cell phone etiquette is a must in today’s workplace. So it’s no wonder that companies and workers ask me regularly about what to do with phones at work. Yes, your cell phone has the power to make you incredibly productive, but when that cell phone is in the workplace, there can be a fine line between productivity and distraction -- and no one wants you to cross it.

What should you do? Start with following five recommendations:

1. Cell Phone Placement

Tucked away and out of site is the best place for a cell phone at work. But if you’re anticipating an important call and/or you’re a parent who may get an unexpected call from the school or daycare, it’s okay to have your phone out as long as you turn the ringer off. If you use your cell phone for business use, opt for a professional ringtone. Yes, that means it’s finally time to replace Crazy Train. Sorry, Ozzy.

2. Texting

It would be silly for me to ask if you’ve ever been in a conversation with someone who stopped talking mid-sentence to read a text they just received. Why? Because it happens. All the time. And the message you hear is that the person’s text is way more important than this face-to-face discussion. Whether you’re in a one-on-one meeting or a casual convo, stay focused on the in-person person, not the text you just got. In general, texting at work screams “unprofessional!” and gives everyone the impression that you’re more focused on personal matters rather than professional ones (even if you’re answering business-related texts). Save responses for break time. Or you could do what the rest of the world does: take the phone to the restroom with you and, um, multitask.

3. Meeting Etiquette

You’ve heard of companies that have banned cell phones in meetings, right? While the practice is less common today, that doesn’t make it okay to check email, Facebook, MLB line scores or your Candy Crush record. Remember why you’re in the meeting, put the phone away, and give the presenter your undivided attention. Again, there will be occasional exceptions -- in those cases, let the presenter know that you’ve received a very important call and apologize profusely. What’s an important message? Urgent work-related calls from someone who outranks the presenter, although a call from the police department, hospital or babysitter might count, too. What’s not urgent? A call from a coworker who needs your input on lunch, a reminder from the doctor’s office that you have an appointment the next day, or any call that starts with “This is the warranty department …” In general, you’ll know before the meeting if a message important enough to stop you in your tracks is going to come through. Apologize in advance and tell the presenter that you may need to step out and take the call. And definitely quash the urge to look at your phone under the table during any meeting. (We all know exactly what you’re doing.)

4. Voice and Phone Volume Etiquette

Here’s a fun game for the rest of the world: it’s called listening in to your calls. We all play it anytime a cell phone is used anywhere near us. Co-workers can quickly learn how much you’re spending on that new boat, your credit card number, and which of your relatives needs a cash boost. Advice: take/make calls somewhere private (no, the restroom is not private). If it’s a work-related, urgent call that you have to take at your desk, be mindful of how loudly you’re speaking. This goes double when you’re using a Bluetooth device, which has the tendency to make people speak even louder. One more tip: don’t check voicemail via speaker. When you do, you destroy any semblance of confidentiality that the caller was hoping to maintain, share the caller’s personal info, and distract everyone within earshot.

5. Social Media Etiquette

Some reports estimate Facebook users check their accounts 15-17 times a day. But whose productivity can take that kind of hit?! Truthfully, nothing happens on social media that is so urgent that you’ll ever need to respond immediately. Still, if FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a real concern for you, devote your break time to checking in with your network. Otherwise, silence or turn off all your social media notifications while at work so you’re not accidentally distracted. By the way, if you’re really serious about limiting your social media and/or other app usage on your phone, there are apps that can track how much time you’re spending and/or help you limit your usage to specific times of the day. Digital Trends published a list for both IOS and Android that can help you get you started.

If you’ve seen some of these behaviors displayed at work and aren’t sure about what is or isn’t acceptable, ask if your company has a cell phone use policy. Some workplaces are really strict, whereas others promote their casual culture. Although truthfully, there are very few workday interruptions that need our attention immediately. We all get more done -- and faster -- if we put our phones away. Set the example for the rest of the team; it might just inspire a few co-workers to do the same.

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