A type of written professional communication that is on the rise within the modern workplace is text messaging. According to Gigi Peccolo on the website Customer Think, up to "80% of people are currently using texting for business" (see "45 Texting Statistics That Prove Business Need to Take SMS Seriously," September 14, 2015). Those numbers are expected to rise in the coming years, so how can you learn to communicate in this new, unfamiliar territory, and furthermore, how can you learn to navigate the differences between workplace and personal text communication?
Texting is not for every workplace or every employee, but if it is a means of communication that is already established and used in your workplace, the following best practices should help you to get started on the right foot:
- Consider the Business Relationship.
- Pay Attention to Timing.
- Know when to Call.
- Remain Professional.
- Reply Promptly.
- Sign off Gracefully.
Consider the Business Relationship
As a general rule, text should never be your first contact with a business associate. Only after you have developed a comfortable relationship in person or by email should the option of text messaging be explored. To further ensure that you don’t overstep your bounds, allow your business associate to establish the preferred method of communication.
Pay Attention to Timing
Once you have established text messaging as a preferred method of communication, it will be important that you adhere to some basic etiquette principles. One of those is timing.
If it would be inappropriate for you to call your boss, coworker, or client after regular business hours, it would likely be just as inappropriate to text them after business hours. Whenever possible, do what you can to limit your communications to only during normal business hours (or hours of normal communication).
Know when to Call
Text message, by design, is meant for short, brief communications (no more than a sentence or two). Anything beyond a simple inquiry should likely be handled via email or a phone call. The last thing that you want to do is rope someone into an urgent conversation that requires a lot of waiting for information to be typed. If the content of the message is unfamiliar or requires extensive context, an in person or video conference meeting might be the better forum for that communication.
Text-speak (shortened acronyms for commonplace words, such as PLZ for “please;” IDK for “I don’t know”, etc.) is always a risk that you run when introducing text into the workplace since it’s such a common practice in personal text communication. To try and combat this habit, try to think of texting in the workplace as a shortened and more immediate version of an email. The forum the communication is traveling through does not change the professional community that it is representing nor does it prevent your boss, coworkers, or clients from reading it through that lens. The quality and level of your professional communication should remain the same despite how it is being communicated.
Just as you would expect a prompt response from a person that you are texting, so too does the person texting you deserve a swift reply. If text message is a common form of communication in your workplace, keep your cell phone handy so that you can check it periodically. Don’t let hours go by in between a text being received and a response being given.
Sign off Gracefully
An uncomfortable scenario that can sometimes play out is a text thread that goes on for too long. To prevent this from happening, think carefully about what the objective of the discussion is before ever sending that first text. Doing so will enable you to know when to close off the conversation (in other words, when the objective is achieved). Once the question or concern is answered or addressed, don’t be afraid to gracefully end the conversation with a simple “thank you” or “I’ll continue to follow up on that.” Doing so will allow all parties involved to get back to what they are doing with minimal discomfort.
Ponder and Record
- What is one area of professional text messaging that you could improve on?
Following these simple guidelines will ensure that these two versions of your written communication do not decrease the level of respect that your superiors, coworkers, or clients have for you as a member of their professional community.