Everywhere you turn, people seem to be linked to their phones or other portable devices send and receiving texts. We might even go as far as saying: “texting is the new talking.” Just today, as I made my way from the airport and to the client site, I noticed the commitment most people have to holding short conversations with whoever resides at the other end of their electronic devices.
As we wait on the plane to board, 80 heads looked down at his or her phone either reading or responding. The flight attendant to her dismay asked four times for people to finish their texting so the plane could leave the gate and comply with the requirement of having electronic devices turned off. The last passenger to shut his phone off only managed to complete his conversation when she stood over him for a few seconds and let other passengers know that we were waiting on him: compliance by guilt.
As the plane landed, everyone grabbed for their phones to see what they had missed during the 50 minutes we were airborne in the same manner that a child grabs a warm cookie when placed before them. I really should not talk since I had my phone in my hand before the wheels touched the ground so all I had to do was turn it on and wait for the electronic joy to start arriving.
While waiting on baggage, getting the rental car, and even driving the rental car onto the highway, people had one hand completely occupied with their phone. It still amazes me to see a person pass me while traveling more than 90 miles per hour and see the glow of their screen in their hands and their elbows controlling their vehicle. I have noticed that if I can see their face, there is this expression of fascination or an almost entrancement as they bask in the glow of the small screen.
In our connected world, meetings, discussions with customers, or simple conversations with colleagues includes similar behaviors. During the client meeting, the material had to be revisited a few times so that the “lap readers” or those hiding their phones under the conference table could hear the key points again. In addition, a key contributor to our meeting had to stop the meeting twice so she had time to respond to a message she received while she was speaking. It did not shock me since I still have to remind some of our staff that is rude to check your phone when you are with a client.
I do not say all of this to discount the value or importance in the modern workplace of technology. Texting provides an important method of business communication. We use it when we travel or need to coordinate other activities on a regular basis. It is a lot easier than calling someone when all you need is something straightforward.
However, most of us do not enjoy waiting on someone else until their important message is completed. What can we do to find balance in the workplace?
Human resources should develop policies for electronic devices. Just as most of us have acceptable use policies for computers and laptops, we need to have policies for mobile devices. Business devices should be utilized for business communication only unless otherwise stated.
Employees should be notified of acceptable use of mobile devices as part of on-boarding. Almost every orientation process addresses personal phone calls. If an employee sends and receives texts all day, it basically equates to an all-day personal phone call.
Connectivity and rapid communication stands to increase in the future. Balance in your policy and enforcement is important. While older workers may not be overly concerned about the texting policy, younger workers differ in opinion and need additional explanation. Describing what is acceptable and giving warnings is important to having a successful approach.
So, if you are driving 90 miles per hour with your elbows and pass me on the highway, give me a smile so I know at least the message was something happy.