Cellular Phones: The bells are ringing

We are being attacked by a hand held device that takes pictures, directs us to the nearest Chinese restaurant in town and plays our favorite songs. It is carried in our pockets, worn on our ear and some people wear it on their belt.

It is the cellular telephone, or the “electronic umbilical cord” as I like to call it, which connects us to the outside world.

The constant ringing you hear in your ear is someone’s cell phone going off in a meeting, at a presidential press conference or during a therapy session. No one is safe from this epidemic of unsolicited interruptions in our business day.

It is time to set some guidelines for the proper use of cell phones in the workplace. We are at war with the buzzing, quacking, and downloaded pop and rap songs that announce someone is wanted to pick up milk on the way home or change the time of a dinner reservation.

What happened to voice mail? What happened to secretaries taking a message and returning a phone call later?

Generation X has dragged us into the world of immediate communication by voice and text, which has upset the status quo of meetings without interruption and civility.

I recently sent out an email to a number of local business executives inquiring about cell phone etiquette. The responses reaffirmed my belief that we are attacked daily by this constantly evolving high tech device.

So what did the respondents to my email survey have to say? They said different things and yet they said the same things but from a different frame of reference. The “baby boomers” saw the buzzing cell phone as an interruption to meetings, while the “Gen X” generation members tolerated the interruptions and saw them as a necessary part of business. Here is a sample of the responses I received:

“It’s even okay to take calls and step out of the room. We all know that there are urgent matters that occur. But to repeatedly check out your phone and let it ring during a meeting is poor etiquette.”

“In our business offices, there is too much familiarity and lack of consideration to silence your call in meetings. Many of us now have smart phones and are checking emails during meetings, like being in a prayerful posture and not paying attention to the purpose of the meeting.”

“As far as emailing/texting during meetings, we allow it. We trust our guys to understand and filter what is important…during meetings. Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials will be taking over soon, and multitasking cell use is only going to continue to grow.” 

“Crackheads are some of the most rude folks I’ve met. Yes, they bend forward to review their emails/calls and don’t pay attention. Worse yet, they will return phone calls while a meeting is in progress.”

“I instituted a no-table meeting rule at my former company. Not only did we keep meetings short, but it was much more difficult for people to use their Blackberries without being noticed.”

So, it is obvious that there is a difference of opinion within the business community about cell phone etiquette and it appears to be generational. So that leads me to a simple conclusion, each company needs to develop their own set of rules regarding cell phone use in the office environment. Some guidelines for cell phone use were submitted by a number of respondents. They are as follows:

  • When using your cell phone make sure that you are at your desk or work station or away from co-workers so they can continue to concentrate on their work.
  • Text on breaks only and not under the table at meetings.
  • When asked, shut off your cell phone.
  • Inform colleagues at the beginning of a meeting that you may have to step out if a particularly urgent call comes in, but that you will only do so because of a particular time-urgent matter.
  • And apologize both when you tell them and when you take the call.
  • Answer the call by stating your name.
  • Pick up your calls promptly.
  • Don’t repeatedly check your phone during a meeting.
  • Use the company phone strictly for company business, not personal.

These are just suggestions. As I said earlier, each company should develop its own set of rules regarding cell phone conversations and use. We have seen that in recent weeks, the center of power in our country, the White House, has been invaded by cell phone thugs with their quacking phones. In one case, the White House press secretary confiscated a reporter’s cell phone.

It is time to tame the demon phone and reel in, if not to cut the cord.

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