smartphone etiquette at work: when is it appropriate to use your phone?

Smartphones represent the cutting edge of communications technology, and with apps and social media, they provide new ways to communicate, inform, and entertain. Smartphones play an increasingly large role in day-to-day life, to the point where it is not always clear when we should or should not be using them in the workplace.

In many professional settings, guidelines regarding smartphone usage may be antiquated, and management officials have a responsibility to ensure that this new technology is being optimized for communication, but that they aren’t being too much of a distraction.

smartphone etiquette at work

Here are some general guidelines for when it is or isn’t appropriate to be checking your phone in the workplace:

using your phone in meetings

Meetings may not always be as exciting or informative as they should be, but checking your phone in the midst of a meeting is generally considered inappropriate. You have a responsibility to your colleagues to be attentive. Checking your phone could be interpreted as disrespectful, and it could make you miss out on hearing important information.

using your phone at your desk

Phone etiquette at your desk can be a grey-area. If you have an important task at hand, checking your phone for social media updates is obviously inappropriate. That being said, checking your phone for an important text from a coworker or work-relevant email is generally okay. Use your best judgment, and know when it is time to stow your phone in your desk when you have pressing work to do.

when sensitive information is being handled

Being on your phone when sensitive information is being handled isn’t only inappropriate phone etiquette; it can also be a legal liability for you and your employer. You may have good intentions, but pulling out your phone to check for an update or to text a colleague could lead to serious legal consequences for all those involved. Don’t take the risk and keep your phone off and away.

using your phone on break

If you’re on a break or taking time off for lunch, there’s no issue with checking your smartphone, regardless of what you want to do on it.

more useful phone etiquette tips

  • always refer to your company’s policy for when you can be using a smartphone.
  • some workplaces are more flexible than others regarding when they can be used.
  • always remember the capacity in which you are using your phone: checking for a communication from a coworker is usually okay, but playing games or updating social media should be reserved for your break.
  • if you are going to keep your phone on your person, to keep it on silent to prevent disruption.

Keep in mind that most of these phone etiquette scenarios refer to reading off a phone’s screen. Using your smartphone to make or receive calls should only be done in instances where the call is work-related, and when you can be sure that you are not disrupting your coworkers.

In closing, smartphones are a great communications tool, but discretion should always be used when deciding if you should check your phone or not. We’d recommend avoiding it outright in meetings, and using your judgment for whether you should check it at your desk. Be informed of your company’s policy on smartphone usage at work and know when it is time to put it away.

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