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What are the appropriate times to use instant messaging as opposed to e-mail?

Generally speaking, I see instant messaging as being more for asides and socializing. Actual business is happening through e-mail. But I don’t think there are established norms for instant messaging in business yet.

Texting and e-mail are often done from the same devices, and texting abbreviations, incomplete sentences, and cryptic language are creeping into e-mails. It’s just not appropriate for business communication. In business, defer to the more formal.

With mobile devices, how can employees—and companies—strike the right work-life balance?

We used to talk about “work creep,” the way work life was starting to creep into people’s private lives. The flip side of that today is “life creep.” The degree to which you’re available [for work] on the weekends may balance out the degree to which you’re available to friends and family at the workplace. To what extent are you responsible for explaining that?

Is it up to employees to figure out these issues?

I put a lot of responsibility on the user. If you’ve got your personal iPad at work because you have an app to run PowerPoint and use it as a presentation tool, and you have a boss who’s technophobic, you might mention that’s why you are bringing it in.

What responsibility does the employer have?

Take the example of an organization giving employees smart phones. If the company expects employees to use these devices, the company needs to provide guidelines as to what’s acceptable and what isn’t. And is there an unreasonable burden or expectation that people become answerable all the time to that device?

Are these kinds of etiquette dilemmas entirely new?

Not at all.

Every generation has had to survive a change in the conditions of the world and the manners that go along with it. Etiquette is a combination of manners and principles. The manners change, but the principles don’t. The fundamental principles of etiquette are honesty, respect, and consideration. Those guiding principles stay the same. We might not know to dog-ear the calling card on the left side to indicate that it’s being left for the woman of the house, the way they did 150 years ago, but we know you’re not supposed to use the cell phone at the dinner table. Each generation has to learn the etiquette of its time.

What’s the modern equivalent of the dog-eared calling card? Maybe a winky emoticon?

It might be. The calling card was used when you called on someone’s home. Depending on how you were received and whether people would see you, you would present your card to the butler. You would dog the corners depending on your intent and who you were visiting. There was a subtlety to the code. My cousin and I downloaded the same set of emoticons—so that could be a modern equivalent. There is a subtlety to the coded language we use to send each other messages on our new phones. 

Just don’t let text-speak creep into your business e-mails.

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Credit: Emily Post Institute

Tagged: Business, Business Impact, The Future of the Office

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