used with permission from HP Technology at Work

Cellphones are a visible symptom of our addiction to technology. We use them for everything; we can’t be separated from them and we clutch at them constantly – even obsessively. Since habits and addictions often become automatic, it’s important to do a bit of self-analysis sometimes. Our all-important interactions with our cellphones can have a big impact on our professional image. Consider that colleague who is constantly rushing to the office bathroom or kitchen to have “personal” conversations which everyone can overhear anyway.

Here are a few simple office phone ethics to consider:

1. Avoid private topics in the office

Surely the whole office doesn’t need to hear about your sick child at the day care centre? Of course, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care – a sick child should be high on your priority list – but it shifts the focus away from work and puts the spotlight on your personal life. This not only shows disrespect to your colleagues but also adds to an unprofessional image. So rather leave the room and find a place where you can talk away from the office. Or if a call catches you off guard, offer to call the person back and take a break somewhere private where you can give the conversation your full attention without evoking the empathy of the whole office and messing with the work dynamic. Some companies offer a separate cellphone for business purposes which does help to makes a clear break between your personal and private calls.

2.  Put your phone away during meetings

In business, time is money and the time spent having meetings should be productive for everyone. A ringing phone may be disruptive and distracting, but if you take the call it adds up to wasted time for everyone around the table. Not only that, but it can be extremely disrespectful to the people you booked your time with, especially if the meeting topic is of a serious nature. So if you know you’re going to be receiving an important call at a particular time, think about rescheduling the meeting – or, if you really need to take the call, tell everyone else at the beginning of the meeting: explain why you’re going to have to take a phone call, and make sure your reasons are valid. Even then, it could give an impolite impression, so take care to try and weigh up the odds realistically. It will be hard to undo the damage once you’ve made your team or your clients feel irrelevant. Funnily enough, you’ll find most things can wait just a few minutes – and you can always call back. Unless you’re an emergency surgeon or a fireman, of course.

3. Don’t keep checking your phone

You’d be surprised how many collective hours go into checking personal mail, Facebook and twitter (and, and, and) accounts at work – but unless you work in the social media world, this equates to constant distraction. Not only does this make it harder for you to find uninterrupted periods of concentrated focus time, but it may also affect your office relationships if you keep checking your phone instead of interacting in real time. Try setting specific time slots for checking your phone at the office, and discipline yourself to stick to them. In fact, it may also be wise to regulate this habit in your own personal time.

4. Be respectful with your choice of ringtone

Silly ringtones may be fun in general, but at the office they can be really annoying. Even vibrating tones can make disruptive noises. Human nature allows us to block out these sounds as white noise after a while, but your different ringtones for every contact can become the ultimate in office irritation. Don’t make yourself unpopular. Take care to choose an unobtrusive, consistent ringtone that blends in with your environment – and at a reasonable volume. You may also want to check that you don’t project your voice over to the other side of the room: that perfect presentation pitch may add to your boardroom status, but for private conversations, it’s better to keep your voice down.

5. Pay attention to your voicemail greeting

If you want to personalise your voice mail greeting, keep it simple and to the point – especially if you’re using your phone number for work purposes or if you’re looking for a job. It can leave an unprofessional impression if you try to be funny or clever with your greeting. Your friends already know your jokes – and there is a more suitable time to show off your karaoke skills! The best personal greeting option is simply to introduce yourself so people hear your voice: “Hello, it’s Yuri! Please leave a message.” Or simply use your default greeting if you’re still unsure.

We’re all accustomed to multi-tasking at work, and the temptation of sorting out personal administration without leaving your desk may be tempting. However, it’s important to make sure that we don’t leave a bad impression at the office – both when making, and taking, a call.