In today’s fast-paced, hard-charging business world, entrepreneurs are often married to their cell phones, glued to their email inbox, and prone to taking rapid-fire calls at a moment’s notice. But is all this high-tech and online activity healthy, let alone respectful of others -- and a good habit to be getting into? It all depends on the relationship you choose to have with your devices, as my team discovered while researching my new book Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World. Below, we offer several expert hints, tips, and suggestions that can help you enjoy more positive and balanced interactions with mobile devices, social networks, and other tools for business development -- and put your best foot forward online.
1. Regulate your time on your device
If you must check your phone, tablet or mobile device regularly, decide on regular intervals at which this task will be performed (say, every half hour or hour) as opposed to obsessively checking the device every ten seconds. Be aware of certain activities that do not require your device to be turned on, or during which usage is discouraged, and enjoy being disconnected for that moment. Experts recommend shutting off all devices a minimum of one hour prior to bedtime in order to improve chances of enjoying restful sleep and scheduling at least one day a month where you do not turn on your devices.
2. Know when to turn it off
Devices should be turned off during meetings, presentations, conferences, corporate retreats and other professional functions. If you must keep your phone on because you’re expecting an important message or communication, silence it or set the ringer to vibrate. Under optimal scenarios, calls will be forwarded to voicemail, where you can listen and respond to them later. If you cannot avoid having to take a call or text for business purposes while you are in the middle of engaging with others, politely excuse yourself from the meeting or discussion. If you cannot do so and must text or utilize high-tech devices in their presence, turn away from the device when others address you, and maintain ongoing attention and eye contact during conversations.
3. Set yourself on shush
Got to take business calls in public? They should be kept as short, sweet and quiet as possible, and confined to crowded or noisier areas where chatter is anticipated. When speaking in public spaces, avoid sharing private information, as it may be overhead and subsequently shared with others. Phones should not be used in enclosed spaces such as stores, subway cars, gyms, restaurants, airplanes, and autos where conversations may intrude upon or annoy others. If you need to make a business call, politely excuse yourself and step outside to do so, or wait until you’re in a less private or intrusive setting.
4. Don't text and drive (or walk)
Maintain situational awareness when in motion. At no time should you be so transfixed by a screen that you cannot safely navigate. Staring at a screen while walking isn’t just rude -- it’s also potentially dangerous to yourself and others and can result in unexpected stumbles, collisions or even serious injury. And when traveling and viewing media in shared company or public spaces (i.e. on airplanes or subway cars), be aware of who’s around you and may, accidentally or otherwise, be able to observe this content, especially if the information is marked as confidential. Likewise, pay attention to screen brightness. Before turning on devices with light-up displays (i.e. smartphones and tablets) in darkened public environs such as dimly-lit airplane interiors, politely ask those situated nearby if doing so will disturb them.
5. Don't get too comfortable
Social networks may seem like informal settings, but they should be treated with the same respect as any public place of business: Professionalism is imperative -- if you wouldn’t say it in a social or work setting, don’t say it online, in the most public of forums. Don’t forget to maintain a positive tone and attitude either: Negativity, complaints and condescending messages often reflect poorly on the poster. Similarly, be advised that conversational nuances and subtle shifts in tone or personality may be lost in translation and that individual users may interpret messages differently: Consider how posts will be read and interpreted before sending. Note to outspoken entrepreneurs: Sharing extremely-opinionated viewpoints (e.g. political leanings or thoughts on controversial topics) can be a lightning rod online. Think twice before liking supporting status updates or posting such opinions, which can incite and aggravate others (and live on in perpetuity).
6. Think twice before posting
Before connecting with your colleagues on social networks, consider if you’d still want to be connected to them if they weren’t your coworkers, i.e. if you ever leave the position. Prior to requesting or accepting connections from coworkers, think about material you’re apt to share as well -- is it appropriate for their consumption? Consider that connecting with colleagues and supervisors may expose you or them to information and influences that may make either party uncomfortable – be certain to understand the risk you’re taking in doing so. When posting status updates, photos or videos, or interacting online, remember as well: If it’s unsafe to say or share at the office, it’s not something you should project online.
7. Know your audience
When emailing, remember that the medium is a common source of miscommunication, because tone, context and subtle nuances are easily lost in translation. Before sending, consider if your commentary could be misconstrued and/or misinterpreted and if a simple phone call might be better advised. Be careful (and be careful to double-check recipients) when copying and blind carbon copying as well: A slip of the keyboard, finger or auto-completing contact form may inadvertently send messages to the wrong party, or result in dozens of parties’ contact information accidentally being shared with one another. Before marking emails as urgent, tantamount to putting an underscore under your message in someone’s inbox, genuinely ask yourself: Will the other party consider the query just as important as I do? And before hitting “Reply All” – which sends messages to all individuals copied on an email, not just the sender – consider whether it’s important for everyone to receive your response.
Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World is out February 7.