10 Rules of Mobile Etiquette for Small Businesses

As small business owners, the mobile phone is one of our most important tools. So important, that we may forget that “anywhere and everywhere” is not our office.

And as your business grows, it’s not just your own behavior with a cell phone you have to think about. You also have to make sure your employees exhibit professionalism, stay safe and present a positive public image of your business while using mobile devices.

We tapped into the expertise of Judi Hembrough, small business marketing director of Plantronics, for tips along with other advice of my own.  So, hit the pause button for a few minutes to review our 10 rules of mobile etiquette for small businesses:

mobile etiquette

1. Move 10 feet away if you must take a call. If you must take a call when you are face-to-face with someone, first excuse yourself politely with a brief explanation as to why the call is especially urgent and can’t wait. Then, move to a location where you can respect the personal space of others. Some recommend that you move at least 10 feet away from others.

Ideally, though, you should avoid interrupting a face-to-face conversation to take a cell phone call. Interrupting the party you are with sends a message that he or she is less important than the caller.

2. Avoid checking that smartphone in meetings. This applies to visually checking for text messages, emails and missed calls, or listening to voicemails.  At best it signals that you are distracted and not giving your full attention to the meeting.  At worst it says you find the people in the meeting to be boring or unimportant.  If you are expecting a call from the White House at any moment — then yes, I can accept you glancing at your phone.  Short of rare circumstances like that, don’t even take your mobile phone out during meetings.

3. Return calls within 24 hours. Returning calls promptly demonstrates professionalism and respect.  If you will be in all-day meetings or on vacation where you can’t return calls in a timely manner, update your phone message temporarily. Just remember to revert back upon your return.  You’ll sound totally out of it with a message that says you’ll be unavailable … until a week ago.

Increasingly I hear voice mail messages that request that instead of leaving a voicemail, callers send a text or an email. This is a controversial practice.  It may turn off some callers, especially prospective or existing clients.  To decide if it’s appropriate:

  • Consider the employee’s role. Most business owners I know want those in sales to be as available as possible, not hard to reach. On the other hand, for a software developer who works 90% of the time in his workspace coding, such a message may be no big deal.
  • Consider what’s standard in your industry.  In tech businesses and online businesses, using email is far more prevalent than using the phone.

4. Know where NOT to talk.  Just in case you want to provide a refresher for your team about where it’s NOT acceptable to talk, let’s go down the list:

Libraries, museums and places of worship: Shhhh… is the rule here. No talking, period.

Restaurants: avoid it.  Even though there is noise in restaurants, a phone conversation stands out and disturbs others. In some restaurants you may be asked to leave – not to mention getting dirty looks from other patrons. Coffee shops, on the other hand, are noisier and more casual, and calls tend to be more acceptable in the hubbub.

Meetings, conferences and events:  Make it become second nature to turn off cell phones upon entering. Set a good example. If you do this in internal meetings in your company, your staff will get used to doing it in all meetings and events.

Finally, please remember not to talk in places that involve running water and flushing. ‘Nuff said.

mobile etiquette

5. Speak softly and carry a big stick. This one is for people who talk loudly on their cell phones. Oops, I mean, that you should avoid talking loudly on your cell phone. How many times have you been subjected to someone nearly shouting to overcome a bad connection? Don’t be that person.

And now … a word about using the speakerphone mode of your phone. Alright, I get that you may be tired of holding your phone up to your ear. But the answer is not to use your phone’s (or tablet’s!) speakerphone mode in an open office or public place. Get a headset. Then you can carry on a long call without your arm or ear going numb, and with less disturbance to others.

6. Ditch that wild ringtone. While I am somewhat joking about this one, you might want to pick discreet ring tones versus that acid-rock ringtone you uploaded to your phone. If a phone rings while you are in an important meeting, and you forgot to shut it off, you don’t want to regret your ringtone on top of annoying everyone.

7. Avoid speaking about private matters in public places.  We business owners may know this, but do our employees and independent contractors?  Judging from how many times have I’ve overheard conversations in coffee shops discussing performance appraisals or confidential business deals, I’d say many teams need a refresher.

Mobile phones fool us — we forget and start behaving as if it’s just us and the person we’re talking with.  As Judi Hembrough of Plantronics says, “Get out of your own ‘privacy bubble’ and pay attention to your surrounding environment.”  Imagine what the party on the other end might think should they realize you’ve been discussing their sensitive matters, in a restaurant.

8. Plan ahead for good reception. In preparation for a taking or making a call outside the office, make sure you can get good cell phone coverage in that area. Nothing disrupts your ability to create rapport on an important business call more than when you keep hearing, “Could you repeat that? You broke up there.”  If reception is an issue on your end, offer to find a place with better reception and call back as soon as possible.

mobile etiquette

9. Keep your mind on your driving!  You realize that texting and even speaking on a call while operating a motor vehicle is a risky thing – but do all of your staff members know it’s an important issue to your company?  Every year people die in vehicle accidents involving mobile devices. You endanger colleagues who are in the car with you, too —  the ultimate breach of etiquette.

That’s why talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving is banned in 10 states, and texting while driving is banned in 39 states here in the U.S.

More and more companies are adopting a strict “no talking or texting while driving” policy while on company business. If you decide to make it your policy, Distracted.gov has a sample employee policy that you can download. (Download .doc policy here.)

10. Secure your mobile device with a locking password. While this may seem to fall outside of basic courtesy, think about all of the information available via your phone, much of it private and referencing others.  In a Honey Stick project last year involving 50 intentionally “lost” cell phones, nearly every phone’s private information was accessed by the person who found it — whether with innocent intent or not.  Lose your phone, and it’s like revealing all your company information and personal information to boot.

Feel free to share some of your stories below in the comments regarding how to maintain polite behavior when using a cell phone in public or in the office.

Photo credits via Shutterstock: Rude, LoudTexting.

15 Comments ▼

TJ McCue - Product Editor


TJ McCue TJ McCue is the Product Editor for Small Business Trends and an entrepreneur who publishes Tech Biz Talk. TJ is a former Wall Street Journal columnist. He also writes for Forbes and American Express OPEN Forum. He loves learning about technology apps and software services - share yours with TJ.

15 Reactions

  1. I would add that you should have a very high standard to determine when a phone call is more important than the person right in front of you. Nothing says “You’re not important” quite like getting out-ranked by a phone call.

  2. TJ McCue

    Totally agree, Robert. I cannot remember a time when a call trumped the person in front of me. There are exceptions, of course, but they are rare and can be explained ahead of time. “My wife is pregnant and she’ll call if she goes into labor…” Etc. Other than that, stay tuned in to your in person meeting.

  3. Kip Marlow

    Great article. This should be printed and sent to every mobile phone user. Maybe even at the time of purchase. We have all been subject to improper mobile etiquette, so please keep up the good work.

  4. Great tips. These are definitely some useful business etiquette tips that we can sometime forget about because of habit. Thanks for sharing.

    Ti

  5. These are good tips, probably practiced by most small business owners, but not by the general public. Its almost common practice now to be sitting in a meeting with someone checking their phone for mail/messages, or leaving it on their desk and checking, or hiding it under the desk. We should have phone-frees zones, except that’s illegal by the FCC.

    • Anita Campbell

      Jon, I agree on the phone-free zones.

      I could understand allowing phones in internal meetings where no outsiders are present, except for one thing: it sets a bad example. A lot of people don’t seem to be able to distinguish between internal meetings where things are relaxed, and external meetings.

      And please don’t get me started on phones going off at conferences because people don’t silence them — I’ve even been present when the phone went off of the person at the podium speaking. Oooooh, bad form. Or as a friend of mine said, whose company paid the keynote speaker, “We paid $25,000 and he couldn’t even remember to shut off his phone?”

      - Anita

  6. TJ McCue

    Jon and Anita, well, I just had to chime in. I completely agree. Years ago, I thought that I would create a device that could kill all cell signal within 30 feet of me… Found out later that it exists, but is illegal in the U.S. I think you can get one in Canada.. I’m not sure there’s any hope for courtesy to occur on a national level.

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