The New Tech Etiquette Rules for Any Office

These days, employees seem to care more about connecting with their devices than with their fellow colleagues. In fact, 4 in 10 HR managers have received a complaint about an employee’s improper use of mobile technology in the work force, according to a recent study by Intel. The most common complaints? A phone ringing during a meeting (60 percent) and using a laptop to check email or surf the Internet during a meeting (44 percent).

Does that mean you shouldn’t ever take helpful gadgets with you to meetings? No. But how we deal with these modern-day peccadilloes is constantly evolving. So we turned to an expert in the field, Anna Post, with the Emily Post Institute, for a few tips.

LAPTOP: Is it rude to bring a laptop to a meeting?

Anna Post: It depends. If it’s not the norm, mention to the group or the meeting leader that you’re going to use your laptop to take notes. When you let people know that in advance, it stops people from wondering if you’re checking your Gmail the whole time.

L: How can you make sure it’s not a distraction?

Post: You could definitely send the message that you’ve got better things to do. If people are working, but not on things related to the meeting, ask people to minimize all screens that don’t pertain to the meeting.

L: And if your boss is the offending party?

Post: It’s a little bit like a ticking time bomb. Managing up is very tricky and you have to pick your battles. Sometimes you just can’t do anything. Sometimes you can tell your boss, privately, “For me to do my best work, I need you to commit to being there. At meetings, I’d like you to get the most out of the work that I’m bringing.” But, you’d better have the right relationship or the right reasons to say anything at all.

L: Is it reasonable to ask people not to bring tech to a meeting?

 Post: It’s a good idea to have a reason why you’d ask that people leave their laptops and smartphones behind. If you tell people why there’s a greater chance of them accepting it. Simply tell co-workers, “I want no distractions. Paper and pens are good because I want to go old-school on this one.”

L: Are there any new rules to keep in mind for video conferencing?

Post: You need to think about background noises and your volume. And you should dress as if you’re there in person. Always check how you look on camera. It’s also a good idea to have a backup technology, like phone or a tablet, handy.

L: Is it acceptable to take a smartphone out at a business dinner?

Post: Your smartphone is not a missing utensil at a business dinner place setting. This is the place people get into trouble. Attention is the way we show respect, and if you’re dividing your attention people notice. Manage that moment diplomatically. Say, “Excuse me, I have to keep my phone on in case my boss calls.” That way, you’re helping to show them that how you’re using the device does matter.

L: Is texting for work OK?

Post: If you’re sending text messages to your boss or a client, defer to what they think is appropriate. Spell out text messages and re-read them before you hit send, especially if you’re communicating up a generation. If it’s a peer, it’s OK to be a little bit more casual.

L: What about taking personal calls at work?

Post: Put your phone on silent or vibrate. You can picture it — you’re bright and shiny on a new job and trying to impress when “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘n Roses comes ringing out of your purse. Your cover’s blown. But keep in mind a vibrating phone in a desk drawer can be just as annoying.

The Final Word

It’s OK to manage how friends and family reach you. Younger staffers, in particular, don’t necessarily think about it. But what might bother somebody isn’t necessarily what they’re going nnnnto say to you. At the end of the day, everybody has a cellphone and a laptop that they are going to be using for work. It’s about how you choose to use it that matters. 

Anna Attkisson
Managing Editor
A lover of lists and deadlines, Anna Attkisson heads up features and special projects for, in addition to covering social networking and accessories. She joined the LAPTOP staff in 2007, after working at Time Inc. Content Solutions where she created custom publications for companies from American Express to National Parks Foundation.