Thursday, June 25, 2009

Workplace smartphone etiquette – smartphones versus smart use

When I started my first legal job during law school, the biggest distraction was  minesweeper on my desktop PC. Today, distractions are bigger, sleeker, and much more available. And, they have unshackled themselves from the desktop. Stop and think about the last meeting you attended when someone wasn’t fiddling with a Blackberry, iPhone, or other PDA.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Alex Williams takes up the etiquette debate of PDAs and corporate meetings:

As Web-enabled smartphones have become standard on the belts and in the totes of executives, people in meetings are increasingly caving in to temptation to check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, even (shhh!)

But a spirited debate about etiquette has broken out. Traditionalists say the use of BlackBerrys and iPhones in meetings is as gauche as ordering out for pizza. Techno-evangelists insist that to ignore real-time text messages in a need-it-yesterday world is to invite peril….

The phone use has become routine in the corporate and political worlds — and grating to many. A third of more than 5,300 workers polled in May by Yahoo HotJobs, a career research and job listings Web site, said they frequently checked e-mail in meetings. Nearly 20 percent said they had been castigated for poor manners regarding wireless devices.

Despite resistance, the etiquette debate seems to be tilting in the favor of smartphone use, many executives said. Managing directors do it. Summer associates do it. It spans gender and generation, private and public sectors.

At Gruntled Employees this morning, Jay Shepherd asks, “Does your company need a smartphone policy?” Here’s my two cents. If we are going to provide employees the technology to stay connected 24/7, and expect them to be available 24/7 because of this technology, we should trust them to be responsible with it. Technology has conditioned customers and clients to expect immediate responses to questions and problems. So, if an employee is spending some time during a meeting responding to a client, this responsiveness should be lauded, not legislated via a policy. On the other hand, if an employee is reading about the Cavs’ acquisition of Shaq, maybe the problem is with the meeting itself and not the employee.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or