Mark interrupts business meetings to answer his cellphone. At lunch, he sits at his desk and talks loudly to his girlfriend. Now that his phone is equipped with a digital camera, he takes pictures like a crazed Bruce Weber. To add insult to foolery, Mark's ringtones only play Michael Jackson songs.
Mark is fictional, but his travesties are sadly too real to imagine. In an era where the average office has more cellphones than coffee mugs, etiquette can often become a back-burner issue. After all, don't these phones help commerce stay connected? How else can Mark reach his clients if they're away from their desk for three minutes?
While networking will always remain paramount in today's workplace, the need to follow polite behaviour should still be a priority for any employee who wants to remain in the good graces of, well, anyone.
This is not just a polemic against the worst offenders; as cellphones have evolved into the new cigarettes, our addiction is only satiated once the phone is safely in hand, fully charged. And as with any obsession, we are wearing horse-blinders to the effect of our gadget-crazed ways (I accidentally left my phone on during a play and it rang, of course).
|Illustration by Adrian Hayles, Business Edge|
Since more than 15.5 million cellphones populate this country, Miss Manners is bound to face an irritating ringtone or a notorious loud talker. But in the office, where time wasted truly is money lost, the mobile maven needs to pay special attention to each little phone call.
Alienating colleagues or customers is easy. Just shout into your cell to not only make sure your voice is heard above the din of clicking keyboards, but also above any conversation in the surrounding area. A pet peeve among many workers centres on volume control, from the loud blabbing to the rock-concert ringtone. Remember when Mom said: "Use your inside voice"? The same rule applies to cellphone fanatics and their desire to project their voice and inconsiderate attitude.
A boardroom reminds us of that one class in high school where we actually had to pay attention. This isn't the cubicle - where games, blogs and stick-man sketches dominate - but a congregation of ideas. This room means business, so when cellphones are callously turned on to receive calls, interruptions slice into the meeting's agenda. It never hurts to switch from ringtone to vibrate, although a better suggestion would be to turn the phone off completely. Voicemail exists for a reason.
Marc Choma of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunication Association (CWTA) agrees that phones should be used prudently. "If you're having a management meeting, it wouldn't be acceptable," he says. "It might take time to figure out the norms in terms of cellphone etiquette, but people usually do that quickly."
The office doesn't have to be a sweatshop, but taking personal calls that last more than five minutes can drain an employer's patience. First there's the co-worker who answers her cellphone every day at lunch, like clockwork, to suggest lunch choices with a son or daughter. Then there's the party-animal co-worker who arrives on Monday to chat on the cellphone with friends about this "awesome party on Saturday night, man, I was so wasted.”
Then there's the senior exec who thinks he's above the law by shutting his office door and fielding calls from this or that relative. Undoubtedly, listening to another's conversation is annoying, but the caller should also be aware of accidental eavesdroppers. Employers don't want to know about hangovers or hangnails when they pass by a cubicle.
Even more embarrassing is the business faux pas of taking calls while at a business lunch. Many people may contend that lunch is fair game, since it's the one hour where phones can be turned on. But a caveat remains: When the lunch revolves around meeting clients or colleagues for a professional purpose, a ringing cell can be as teeth-grating as a baby crying incessantly. That error in judgment can shatter relationships or fracture business deals, even if the call is truly important.
Phones used to just make and take calls, but today's technology progresses so quickly that Baby Boomers must be wondering why cellphone users are now pointing their units at Christmas party poses. The camera phone turns the caller into the photographer, which means lots of snap-snap-grin-grin in the office, whether anyone likes it or not. Much like the doting parent who loves to share photos of cherubic children, the camera-phone addict will display his photo proficiency without any prompting. Privacy invasion is only half of it. When someone is taking your picture, you become distracted from work. You may spend the rest of the day trying to convince the perpetrator to erase your mug from his screen.
Along with camera-phone technology, cellphones are now undergoing a musical makeover. Motorola recently released the ROKR, a snazzy phone that plays up to 100 MP3s, and many competitors are following suit. While the office is not yet a stage for everyone's favourite playlists, it may soon evolve into a playground for the musically minded. Keep your eyes peeled for anyone listening to a cellphone with earbuds and not saying a word.
A look at all these etiquette breakers makes one wonder whether formal policy should be in place.
Last year, the U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management surveyed 379 human-resource professionals and found that 40 per cent of their companies had policies governing cellphone use at work. Choma of the CWTA is straddling the fence on this issue, but advises: "It's more common sense. We learn from society so, if you accidentally leave your cell on, you learn not to do that again."
Another expert views the cellphone-in-office trend as a mainstay that will continue to flourish. "Prior to the cellphone, the way we dressed communicated who we were in the workplace," Paul Levinson, chairman of the department of communication and media studies at Fordham University, told the New York Times. "Now, what ringtone someone has, how often the cellphone rings, how we respond to it when it rings - these are defining personality types in the office."
If Levinson is right, then employees craft their personality with every cellphone call.
Since we never get a second chance to make a first impression, who will you be?
(David Silverberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)