Millennials are driving increased use of texting on the job. How you handle this communication tool can determine if it’s a positive or a negative development.
We’re texting all the time. Sending a text is more timely than sending an email, yet feels less intrusive than calling someone. Texting is replacing voice calls, especially among 18- to 24-year-olds, who send and receive nearly 4,000 text messages per month.
And as the lines between work and life become increasingly blurred, there is nothing stopping your crews of wastewater technicians and office staff from bringing their personal habits — especially texting — to work. Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or just the reality we have to deal with?
Although texting has found its way to the workplace, numerous questions remain about texting etiquette. Largely prompted by the rapid rise of smartphone use in the workplace combined with the huge number of millennials (typically ages 18-34) entering the workplace, texting has made its way on the job before proper protocol could be set.
Praful Shah, senior vice president of strategy for RingCentral, has witnessed a recent shift toward multiple devices in the workplace, including mobile phones, tablets, desk phones and laptops. He notes that each of these channels of communication required adoption of new habits and protocols within a business context.
Here are his six rules workers should follow when texting with managers, co-workers and customers in the field.
1. Grab some context clues
Sending text messages is a natural way to communicate, especially for millennials who have been texting more or less their entire lives. But this doesn’t mean you, your managers and the company’s customers feel the same way. Workers should watch for clues before testing. If the boss or a customer has initiated a text message in the past, it’s safe to assume they have the green light.
2. Feel it out
If workers are unsure if a manager or customer prefers texting to calling or emailing, they may test the waters the next time an extremely time-urgent issue arises by texting a question such as, “Need to chat about the project ASAP; have a few minutes to talk?” If the conversation keeps going via text, it’s safe to say the door is open for future text conversations. If a colleague or customer prefers moving to a phone contact, perhaps it’s best to save the trouble next time by calling right off the bat.
3. Keep it professional
Texting with friends and family is typically casual, but it shouldn’t be in the workplace, especially to customers or other VIPs. Avoid using abbreviations that wouldn’t be understood across all generations and stay away from emoji overkill, since both make texts informal. The focus of workplace text messages, especially to customers, should remain centered on work at all times, unless the other party initiates a personal conversation about appropriate topics.
4. Only text when response time is important
Text messaging may typically be saved for time-sensitive information, when emailing wouldn’t generate a response quickly enough. Texting is less intrusive than placing a phone call, because the receivers have the option of ignoring the message if they are too busy to respond. When you need a quick response off-hours, text messaging is a better option than calling. A quick text might prompt a response, or at least a read receipt, instead of leaving you wondering if your email has been read.
5. Limit group texting to critical things
If you loop a customer into a group text, you will likely send an overabundance of texts that person doesn’t need to see. Be respectful of others by not encouraging off-hours group texts that will keep everyone’s phones binging and clanging away when they are home spending time with family. Group texting has its place — if it’s a dire customer emergency, for example, and you need input right away.
6. If it can wait, don’t text
Bottom line, you communicate with your customers and co-workers daily face-to-face and via email and conference calls. Before you add texting to the mix, ask yourself if it can wait until you’re back in the office or online tomorrow. If it can wait, you’ve saved yourself the headache of wondering whether or not a text was appropriate.
HERE TO STAY
There’s no way to eliminate text messaging from our communication mix, and it’s infiltrating our conversations at work. If you think before you text, and save texting for the most urgent conversations, it can be a helpful channel for communicating with customers, employees and other business contacts. If not, and you go overboard with the number of texts sent, emoji used or spelling errors made, it can be extremely unprofessional.
The simple answer: If it’s work-related, think it through before you send that text.