5 Rules for Texting or Messaging Your Coworkers

Career Advice

While cleared facilities don’t allow smart phone access when on-site, instant messaging (think Slack, Hipchat or Skype) and off-site texting with coworkers is a growing trend. Messaging feels like a closer form of communication than email. Our phones feel personal to us – even if they are company or government owned. When we’re sitting at our computers or looking at our phones, we’re often in our own personal thoughts, so when a text or message pops in, it feels close to us.

It is easy to obliviously message your coworkers in a manner that could be too personal, or flat-out rude. Written communication is always challenging, given its propensity to be easily misconstrued without body language or tone of voice. However, messaging also has a closer feel between the sender and receiver, so it’s even more important to pay attention to the quick messages that we send back and forth with coworkers. You could be damaging relationships without even realizing it.

When you’re using messaging at work – whether you’re sitting at your desk or it’s after hours and you have a quick project question, here’s some things to keep in mind:

1. Put the emojis down.

It’s easy to try to make up for the lack of emotion in written text with extra emojis, but in a work setting, you may want to reduce your emoji usage. Too many emojis, and suddenly, your coworkers have to interpret your emoji usage (if you need a cheat sheet to interpret which emoji to use or what someone is saying, it may be faster to pick up the phone) and you risk looking unprofessional. One too many smiley faces about project documentation can reduce the effectiveness of your message.

2. Don’t always expect an immediate response.

Not everyone puts the same weight to messages. Some treat instant messages like an email, and they get to it whenever it’s convenient. Others treat instant messages exactly like office drive-bys. In reality, messaging at work is intended to reduce the time that you have to engage in small talk or ask simple questions. It requires a faster response than an email, but if you’re the sender, you still need to be patient with others. Sometimes, people don’t sign off properly and may appear available to chat when in reality, they’re not.

3. If it will take multiple follow-ups, consider an email.

While messaging requires less small talk than a cubicle drive by, it can be pretty annoying to get persistent interruptions for quick questions throughout the day. If you don’t need your information right away, consider compiling an email with a list of questions. Requiring your coworkers to constantly stop their work to answer questions breaks up their productivity and thought processes.

4. Don’t overshare.

Technology provides a false sense of closeness. In other words, it’s easy to feel close to someone over messages but then feel flat when face to face. Messaging is like an ongoing conversation and you need to be careful with how you let your guard down over messaging. You could be promoting or perceiving a closer relationship than reality.

5. Respect time boundaries.

Some employees feel their smartphone has given them freedom to get more work done outside of the office. Others feel like it is a leash. Keep that in mind when you are reaching out to others and interpret responses – if they’re one-word answers or slow to respond. Some of your coworkers enjoy the extended workday, but others work hard to fit everything in during their work day and only prefer to respond to emergencies. Honor your coworkers’ boundaries. That may require a frank discussion about preferences.

Every form of communication that you send to your coworkers – whether it’s in email, text, face to face conversations, or over the phone – you always need to consider how well you are communicating your message. Sloppy communication in the workplace detracts from reaching your team and personal goals. Poor communication does not serve you well at your current employer, and it hinders the networking that will land you your next job.

Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.

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