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OMG, We Need to Establish Work Text-iquette

By Sherri Petro (1260 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on April 26, 2013

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By Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor

We all know texting and driving is a monumentally bad combination.  What about texting and working?  This is not in reference to texting personally while at work, it’s about using texting as a viable communication channel in our organizations.  How do we use it well?  While HR departments have been modifying their e-policies for use of personal texting, we don’t see much on how to use texting to effectively enhance organizational communication. 


In 2008, while educating CEOs in the US and Canada on leveraging generational communication, this author asked whether the execs intended on allowing texting in their organizations.  The answer was an unequivocal no!  At the time, texting was done by youth and studies showed Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) might be texting in five years.  What was completely underestimated was Boomers’ desire to communicate with our kids.   


And we learned fast.  Three years later, while addressing another such group, I did not have to ask.  The CEOs were texting their HR departments during my presentation to inquire on their company’s workforce generational demographics.  Recognizing the need for immediate accessibility and the value of short bursts of information, they were on board with using texting -- for themselves. 


We have progressed even further along the texting timeline.  From my very first work-related text from my company’s financial advisor to the myriad of them on my Android right now, I receive texts from clients and am use texting with my staff. Why?  Those short bursts of information are powerful. 


It’s inevitable.  It saves time in a time compressed work environment.  We’re going to use them this way. We should set guidelines to manage expectations.  If you don’t have rules of the road for using this communication channel (other than not when we are driving!), think about these questions as you grapple with who gets to text whom to create for proper textiquette.


4 Tips To Ensure We Are Using This Viable Business Communication Channel Well


1: Can we allow or require people to text?  

Check with your legal counsel on how to do this!   Big questions abound.  Whose phone is it?  There’s a bugaboo.  Who has unlimited texting?  Uh oh.  If it’s a valid communication channel, we had better own that channel.  Be careful about expecting employees to text internally using their own phones.


2: What is the language we endorse using? 

Professional use of texting is not the same as personal use.  It has a different purpose and thus a different structure.  As a reflection of the company versus you as an individual, some questions need to be thought about beyond spellcheck:

a.     Do we allow acronyms?

b.     Do we use whole sentences only?

c.     Do we start texts like a letter with internal or external customer name?

d.     Do we sign off with our names? 


3: Define how each level in your organization wants to be communicated with?  

When asking a room of all four generations if texting is allowed for work business in early 2013, they said, “Of course.” When asking about levels and the rules for each, they did not have much more to say. 

For the head of one Organizational Development department at a major transportation company, the best way to get hold of busy executives is to text.  A phone call or email is not going to get a response until much later.  The execs have sanctioned the use and have come to expect text requests.  They appreciate the information shared via text and the ability they have to make quick educated decisions.   What about middle management and the front lines?  We may decide to use texting for the same purposes as executives, as well as a myriad of reasons. This could include checking on order status, connecting on specific financial items when working remotely, or finding a colleague at a networking event.  The texting communication channel crosses organizational boundaries.


4: Under what circumstances is texting allowed, expected, or required? 

Rules of the road need to be established.  It may make sense to do this by department or function.  We recognize there are texting “no-nos” i.e, never while driving.  And not everyone will participate in this communication channel unless mandated -- if you indeed want to mandate.  Doesn’t it make more sense though to allow it but not to expect it of everyone?  The latter is more honoring of every generation’s preferred communication vehicle.  Similar to the use of email, we should not have a performance discussion using texts!  That one should be in person face-to-face or electronic face-to-face using web conferencing or SKYPE.


What else should we not use texting for?  We said text is great for SHORT bursts of information. How about a character limit?  If you have to send four texts to get your one point across, use email. If an immediate response is required, send a text to alert respondent to check email for a hot topic.


How do our customers feel about being contacted via text by a vendor?  We need to know before we assume it is all clear.  Some companies frown upon its use.  Some people prefer email, phone or face-to-face before they would think of texting. 



Texting is a valid form of communication that can enhance information flow if used properly.  We need to define and understand how to best use it rather than assume everyone is on board.  These questions can be your discussion starters.  To make sure staff understands expectations, and don’t forget to train on what you determine! 



{#/pub/images/SherriPetro.jpg}Written by Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor Sherri is a professor, accomplished strategist, organizational development professional and executive coach.  She consulted for 13 years in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors after a 16 year corporate career.  She teaches the Strategy Capstone as well as Leadership, Change Management and Business Ethics courses in CMU’s MBA program. Her current passion is educating organizations on how to increase organizational sustainability by leveraging the talents and skills of all in multi-generational workplaces. Sherri offers remedies to misunderstandings that result from different belief structures and lack of coherent communication by creating understanding and making connections at the belief level not only at the behavioral level.


Do you have a question for Sherri?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Comments (1)

Dianna Booher posted on: April 27, 2013

This article raises many questions that many HR departments haven't yet answered for their organizations. Will be intriguing to see how uniform the policies become.

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