Published on May 6th, 2015 | by Haseeb Ahmed2
Business Etiquette Q&A with Dr Mark Batey
Q: Is using your commute to get work done likely to be productive or merely stressful?
Pick the easy stuff and clear the decks ready to tackle the high-quality tasks or those that need interaction with colleagues when you get to the office. Your mind might not be entirely on the task if you’re looking out of the window of the bus, so keep it simple so you don’t make mistakes.
Q: Are there times when being mobile inspires new ways and working and helps get the best from us?
The impact of smartphones is to allow us to establish our own preferences of where we work best. Knowledge-based workers, who don’t have to be in one fixed place to do their jobs, should be encouraged to get out of the office and work where they feel most comfortable. Anytime, anywhere working allows teams the freedom and autonomy to hold meetings outside the office in stimulating environments, as well as enabling people to work at times to suit them. The important point here is to use mobile devices to suit them – being disciplined and switching off at set times so as not to become a slave to technology.
Creativity and innovation often develop from unusual insights that have the power to make great change and positively impact the business. One of the advantages of mobile devices is that we have great tools at our fingertips that let us be. Spend 20 minutes a day browsing websites of services or companies that are new to you and they’ll often inspire new ideas by making you think differently and more widely – this can be a great habit to adopt on your daily commute.
We all have our best ideas when we’re out of the office. Come Monday, we’ve completely forgotten these. This is because it’s virtually impossible to recreate the loose connections between our thoughts and knowledge that helped us have the great idea in the first place. With note taking apps on mobile devices, we can record these moments of inspiration before we forget them – as did Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison and Roald Dahl in paper notebooks.
Q: How should people go about setting boundaries of when they should and should not make themselves available for work or do more job related tasks? Are there certain times, just before bed, for example, or on holiday, when it really is a no-no?
Checking your work messages right before bed is not sensible because normally there is little you can do in response and the most likely result is that you start to worry about something. The caveat here is that it is possible to prime your brain to get your non-conscious mind to mull over something that’s not stressful while you’re asleep, which can be a very powerful tool – in effect you can set your non-conscious mind working on a solution to an issue while you sleep. But generally, it’s best to avoid emails at bed time. There is also research that blue IV rays emitted by devices can affect sleep
patterns and also that our power to concentrate is lessened by the continual bombardment of information.
Q: How about angry or urgent messages? Is there an etiquette of response times, even if we’re out of the office?
If you receive an urgent or angry email while away from the office, take a step back and decide if it’s something that can be left until you’re back at your desk. If someone is angry, work out to what extent you can send a holding response that lets them know that you will deal with it properly in the next few hours, giving you the time to go back with a full response when you’re ready.
Response times naturally depend on the type of enquiry. If something is complex and needs reflection, you should take longer to respond, unless someone is looking for an immediate reply. But this actually isn’t the best way to work. Organizations that do things at high speed tend to be less productive overall, prioritizing responsivity at the expense of having time to think things through. If something doesn’t need much thought, answer quickly. If it demands reflection, getting it right is more important than speed. Generally ‘netiquette’ suggests 24 hours is an acceptable time in which to respond.
Q: Are there times when communicating face-to-face is more effective than message?
Making phone calls can make you highly noticeable. You will often be in ‘splendid isolation’ making a call, when we are so used to receiving communications electronically.
Q: Are there certain situations where it’s generally inappropriate to use email?
Anything personal or particularly sensitive to do with work is better dealt with face to face or over video conferencing such as Skype. This allows you to show empathy and understanding – it is difficult to understand how someone else is feeling or to show your level of sensitivity when there is no eye contact or tone of voice to communicate with.
Q: What are the downsides of always being connected?
Make the decision to draw a line between personal and work life, and define when is work time and when is social time. Part of the pressure to respond immediately to messages comes from the fact that people can often see when you’ve read them, which puts you under more pressure to respond because it shows when you’re active.
Constant connection can cramp quiet reflection time which is when some of our best ideas come to the surface.
Q: Any advice on how to manage our relationship with our devices?
The simplest thing to do is to switch off the push notifications that alert you when a work message has just come in to prevent you from checking at all hours.
But everyone has to have the discipline to set their own boundaries. For example, no checking emails at the dinner table. This demands self-motivation and self-control, particularly if you use your device to wind down.
If you receive a message at just before the end of the day, your response primarily depends on who has sent it! Prioritize. If it really is urgent, it’s usually best to deal with it straight away, particularly if it’s something quick. But it’s also good practice to send a holding message that explains you have received the note and expect to respond fully by a certain time the next day. Most people respect the work/life balance that means you can’t respond immediately. Of course, you can just not respond at all, but this depends on the level of service you’re contracted or expected to give.
Q: What’s the best way to cope with the ‘always on’ work culture?
Even if you are writing an email at 10.30pm, hold it back and send it at 8.30am the next morning when people are in a position to respond. Most people trying to answer an email late at night are likely to rush the reply. It’s more effective to sleep on it and come up with a better solution – and it also looks more professional for a business. After all, you wouldn’t turn up at a shop at midnight trying to return an item, so it’s unrealistic to expect knowledge workers to always be ‘on’.