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The 7 Rules Every Smart Employee Follows When it Comes to Texting at Work
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Lorelei Yang
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Wonky consultant with a passion for words
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There used to be a time when people trying to find you at work needed to call your office line or the receptionist to have them patch the call through to you. With smartphones' ubiquity, that has changed. It's now easier than ever to contact friends, family, and professional contacts through text, iMessage, WhatsApp, social media and more. However, just because you can stay in constant contact with everyone in your social circle through constant texts doesn't mean that you should do so, especially when you're in the office.

7 Rules for texting at work.

1. Keep personal texts to a minimum.

This first rule is the one that many people violate. Although it can be tempting to let yourself fall into a text black hole on slow workdays, avoid the temptation. It's important to ensure that the time you're in the office is spent, well, working. Texting for personal reasons detracts from this. Limiting yourself to only texting during your lunch break and at regular breaks (for coffee or stretching) is a good way to help keep your in-office personal texting in check.

2. Keep texts to coworkers or your boss to urgent matters.

As a general rule, text your coworkers or your boss only if you need an immediate response and if you know that this mode of communication works well for them. If you're picking up the phone to text a colleague or supervisor for work-related matters, get straight to the point.

3. Don't text during meetings.

Just as teachers and professors frown upon students texting in class, so, too, will your colleagues frown upon you texting during meetings. Even if you're only in the meeting to stay in the loop and aren't an active participant, texting during a meeting is rude. No matter how sneaky you think you're being, other people will notice — and they'll judge you for it.

4. Keep it professional.

Although texts can feel like a less formal means of communication than email or internal memos, in a professional context, they need to be kept, well, professional. As such, keep your language appropriate for the workplace and refrain from texting anything that you wouldn't say in person at the office or write in an email to a colleague or professional contact. This also includes use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation.

5. Put the phone away if it's distracting you or reducing your productivity.

If you find that your phone notifications are distracting you during the day or reducing your productivity, it's time to put the phone away. If you need your phone for work purposes but want to avoid getting distracted by personal texts during the day, consider muting your personal contacts during the workday (and unmuting them at night and in the morning). 

6. Abbreviate sparingly.

Although texting in general may involve a lot of shorthand, avoid using all but the most common acronyms and abbreviations (such as "FYI," "BTW") in work texts. Generally, try to write words out in full and avoid using any trendy slang that the other person you're communicating with may not know. Additionally, if the person you're texting with is a superior and they aren't using abbreviations, follow their lead and spell everything out as well.

7. Check your company's policy on texting at work (or cellphone use in general).

Many companies have policies governing employees' use of cell phones at work for both personal and professional purposes. In some companies, there may even be rules noting whether employees are allowed to conduct professional business over text. To ensure that you don't run afoul of your company's policies, check your employee handbook and ask HR if you have outstanding questions.

FAQs.

1. Can you get fired for texting at work?

In short, yes. In many states, especially right-to-work states, employers can fire employees for any reason. This would include texting at work. Additionally, if your texting gets in the way of your productivity and causes your performance to suffer, your employer could very well fire you for poor workplace performance precipitated by your in-office texting.

2. Can an employer ban cell phones at work?

Yes, they can. According to the National Safety Council, nearly six million people in the U.S. are banned from using all cell phones while conducting company business or while using company vehicles. With that said, however, there's an increasing sense that banning cell phones at work is punitive and unrealistic given how embedded cell phones are in people's lives — so this may well change in future.

3. Can employers see your text messages?

In the case of company cell phones, yes. In the case of personal cell phones, no. The reasoning is that when you're using a company-issued cell phone (or any other piece of employer-issued equipment), your employer is entitled to understand how you're using their equipment. However, if you're texting on a personal device, your employer has no such right.

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Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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