TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Essential Rules For Texting at Work

143383028
Go ahead, text. Blend Images - REB Images—Getty Images/Brand X

Here's how to "speak text" on the job

If you see young people at work texting all the time, don’t assume they’re chatting with friends.

Roughly one in seven millennials in a recent survey said they prefer text messaging over other methods of communication at work. Given this demographic’s size and rising clout in the workforce, this means one thing: If you don’t already text with your co-workers, it’s probably only a matter of time.

The problem is, there isn’t a lot of guidance around what, for most people, is a casual form of communication, says Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer at the Center for Generational Kinetics. “Many employee manuals and orientations don’t cover texting at work, which makes knowing what to do or not to do all the more stressful,” he says.

So, we asked experts in workplace communications, human resources and millennial behavior to weigh in with some rules for texting at work. Here’s what they say:

Ask first. Just because you have a colleague’s mobile number doesn’t give you carte blanche to fire off a thumb-typed note, especially when it comes to your boss, Dorsey says. “Your company may have a policy or compliance issues that says texting is not allowed,” he points out. Plus, it’s entirely possible the recipient might find the communication intrusive instead of imperative.

Skip the salutations. “It’s fine to leave out formalities, best wishes, kind regards-type wording in text messages and get straight to the point,” says Matt Mickiewicz, CEO of job-search site Hired.com. If you’re not certain if the recipient will recognize your mobile number, it’s fine to start off with, “Hi, it’s so-and-so,” but that’s it.

Keep it brief.Texting is an interruption driven communications, less intrusive than calling, but more than an email correspondence,” says Praful Shah, senior vice president of strategy at cloud-based phone company RingCentral. “Only text when response time is important.”

Know when to kill it. “Texts should be used to share a key piece of information or ask a short question,” says Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of human resources at job-search site Indeed.com. They’re not meant for hashing out complicated situations or providing tons of detail.

“If it takes more than three text messages to answer your question, stop texting and call them,” Dorsey says.

Abbreviate judiciously, spell correctly. In general, you can get away with commonly used abbreviations, Dorsey says. That is, unless your boss spells everything out, in which case — sorry — you should, too. The brief nature of text messages means that truncated grammar is generally OK, but it’s still important to make sure your spelling is correct.

Reply promptly. “Since texting should be much more brief than an email, it should be easy to respond to more quickly than an email,” Wolfe says. Put it in the same category of communications as an instant message, and reply accordingly.

No emoticons. Just — no. Save that for chats with your friends or your kids, not the person who signs your paycheck.

TIME Research

Why People Text And Drive Even When They Know It’s Dangerous

texting while driving
Getty Images

75% of drivers surveyed admit to texting while driving

If you’ve turned on the TV or glanced up at a billboard lately, you know that texting while driving is a bad idea. Celebrities are lending their names to public awareness campaigns, and more than 40 states have banned the practice. A new study surveyed 1,000 drivers and found that 98% of those who text everyday and drive frequently say the practice is dangerous. Still, nearly 75% say they do it anyway.

“There’s a huge discrepancy between attitude and behavior,” says David Greenfield, a University of Connecticut Medical School professor who led the study. “There’s that schism between what we believe and then what we do.”

The lure of text messages is actually a lot like the appeal of slot machines, Greenfield explains: both can be difficult compulsions to overcome for some people. The buzz of an incoming text message causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which generates excitement, Greenfield says. If the message turns out to be from someone appealing, even more dopamine is released.

Curbing this compulsion could take years for the text-obsessed, and doing so might resemble efforts to stop drunk driving, Greenfield says. People need to realize they’re part of the problem before they change their behavior, he adds.

“In order to really include oneself in a group that has a problem with texting and driving, they have to admit their own fallibility, and we’re loath to do that,” Greenfield said.

Multiple public awareness campaigns have taken to the airwaves and internet to target the practice, but it’s unclear how effective they are, given that the public seems to be largely aware of the issue. There might be more actionable solutions in the very near future, however. AT&T, which sponsored Greenfield’s study as part of its “It Can Wait Campaign,” has an app that switches on when a person is driving more than 15 mph and silences incoming text message alerts.

Read next: Why Siri Is the Worst Backseat Driver

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Thirty years after the world’s worst chemical plant disaster, we must do more to avoid repeating that calamity.

By Anna Lappé in Al Jazeera America

2. Taking medicine on a schedule is key to fighting Malaria, and simple text message reminders are proving remarkably effective.

By Jesse Singal in New York Magazine’s Science of Us

3. The next step for human exploration of space is interplanetary travel, and asteroids are great stepping stones. We should go to the asteroid, not bring one to us.

By Richard P. Binzel in Nature

4. Science reporting in American media has nearly disappeared, and the Ebola coverage shows we’re worse for it.

By the Editors of the Columbia Journalism Review

5. By coming out as the first gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Apple’s Tim Cook topples a lingering and outmoded bias.

By Tim Cook in Bloomberg Businessweek

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME technology

Watch Key and Peele Perfectly Capture the Dangers of Misunderstood Texts

It's all about how you interpret the other person's tone

Texting is, overall, a great thing. It allows us to communicate without actually having to speak to one another, which is a huge blessing. But, as this hilariously spot-on sketch from Key & Peele reminds us, communicating solely through text messages has its pitfalls. Watch as a simple exchange between friends goes totally awry, all because they’re completely misinterpreting each other’s tones.

Also, if anyone can let us know where to get a pizza sweatshirt like the one Peele is wearing in this sketch, that would be awesome. Thanks.

TIME China

Chinese City Sets Up ‘No Cell Phone’ Pedestrian Lanes

China Cellphone Lane
In this photo taken Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, residents walk on a lane painted with instructions to separate those using their phones as they walk from others in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. AP

Texting and tweeting? Then keep to the left, people

Chongqing, a vast municipality of 28 million in southwest China, has come up with a lighthearted strategy to remind pedestrians of the dangers of looking down at a smartphone while walking — separate lanes for people using or not using their devices.

Signs and street markings appeared recently in a short section of paving in the city’s entertainment district, indicating that one section of the sidewalk would be a “no cell phone” lane, the Associated Press reports.

“There are lots of elderly people and children in our street, and walking with your cell phone may cause unnecessary collisions here,” said Nong Cheng, a spokeswoman for the district’s property management company. However, she clarified that the initiative was meant to be a satirical way to highlight the dangers of texting and walking.

Many pedestrians have been stopping to take pictures of the markings and the signage, although Nong said most of them don’t actually adhere to the guidelines.

The inspiration for the dual sidewalk came from National Geographic in the U.S., which created similar divisions on a section of pavement in Washington, D.C., in July as part of a televised behavior experiment.

[AP]

TIME

How Fluently Do You Speak Emoji?

Take our quiz to find out how well you know texting's favorite icons.

(Note: most emoji definitions sourced from Emojipedia.)

TIME Education

Why Parents Shouldn’t Fear Teacher-Student Texting

Never mind those scary headlines, with safeguards in place, texting can foster student learning and success

Updated 8:11 a.m. ET Friday

In case you missed it, a Baltimore dad struck his 15-year-old daughter’s teacher with a baseball bat last week. The teacher’s offense? Texting the daughter in what the father deemed was an inappropriate exchange.

The baseball bat notwithstanding, it’s easy to understand why many parents have a strong reaction to a teacher texting their kid. After all, creepy adults abound, and teens can be vulnerable prey. So, by extension, it’s tempting to want school districts to ban all such communication between teachers and students.

Even relationships that start out as innocent can take a bad turn. Better safe than sorry seems, on its face, the wisest course.

But research suggests it’s not that simple.

While certain safeguards that ensure texting can be monitored should undoubtedly be in place, the easy back-and-forth between teachers and students can create important bonds, especially for young people who are in need of extra help.

“Teachers are the first to spot trouble for kids who are at risk—kids with mental health issues, sexuality issues, problems at home,” says Danah Boyd, whose book, It’s Complicated is an anti-alarmist polemic that examines the social lives of networked teens. “These are kids who need more positive adult relationships, not less.”

Others who’ve looked deeply into the issue—the possible dangers weighed against the likely benefits—have reached the same conclusion. Mica Pollock, an education professor at the University of California, San Diego, found in a study published last year that texting “increased personalized student support by enabling, then strengthening, teacher-student relationships.” Pollock and her co-author, Uche Amaechi, a doctoral candidate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, spent a year following two teachers who texted with 40 at-risk high school students from Somerville, Mass.

Still, among parents, the most common reaction to teacher-student texting is fear. “I know teachers who are afraid to even give kids a hug because they are afraid to be sued,” Pollock says. “There is a lot of anxiety on all sides about the appropriate way to interact. But there is no teaching without teacher-student bonds, so the question is how do we form those bonds safely and effectively.”

This is a question all schools are facing—not just those with large at-risk student populations—given that texting is the primary way teens communicate.

Many school districts have created guidelines that allow teacher-student texting, but limit exchanges to school-related topics or confine them to group texts that would, for example, allow a coach to tell his team that practice has been cancelled or a teacher to direct a group of students to be prepared to answer a particular prompt during the next day’s English class.

But in their texting pilot, Pollock and Amaechi, along with the teachers and students they followed, came up with ground rules of their own—mostly to foster one-on-one exchanges, respect and to set some limits on encroaching on the teachers’ personal time: “Do not expect a text back before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m.; no inappropriate language; and no sharing of anyone else’s business.”

They did not, however, set any limits on content, maintaining that the mix of personal and school-related messages were key to forging genuine trust and caring.

Texts were about school “mixed with lighthearted communication about life events and student needs,” Pollock and Amaechi found in their study.

Perhaps most important, the teachers in the texting pilot used technology that allowed them to use non-personal phone numbers and enabled texting over the computer on school accounts—providing both the transparency needed for safety, and the feeling of privacy that texting affords.

Most experts agree that this kind of balance is ideal.

“We should not ban the technology,” says Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at the department of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has studied sexual misconduct by teachers for 17 years. “It is here to stay, and it can be useful in education. But we can create guidelines that allow teachers to use it without blurring or crossing any lines. It has to be open and transparent, where everyone knows that it can be monitored.”

Indeed, it is fairly common for schools to insist that teachers and students communicate via email using open school accounts. In part that’s because adults are comfortable with the idea of using multiple email addresses—one for their work life and another for their personal life.

But they have a harder time thinking of texting in the same way—something that needs to change. According to a Pew Research Center study on teenage use of mobile phones, the percentage of all teens that used text messaging doubled from 27% to 54% between 2006 and 2010. More importantly, the study found that 70% of teens use texting to do “things related to school work.”

“Kids use text the way we use email,” says Amaechi who is working on a dissertation that examines how students and teachers use mobile devices in the classroom for academic purposes and to communicate. “We have built the rules and polices around the technologies that adults use most—and not what kids use.”

“For kids, their phone is the most important thing,” he adds. “The first thing is to accept that as the reality. Kids want to interact not just with each other, but also with adults through texting. If you limit their ability to text, you are limiting their interactions with adults in ways that could be beneficial to them.”

 

TIME technology

A Middle Finger Emoji is Coming to a Phone Near You

Plus 10 other useful Emoji (or so we think)

How do you tell your friends they’re being annoying over text? If words (or the ambiguous, smiling turd Emoji) aren’t getting your point across, you can wait until July, when 250 new Emoji arrive — including a middle finger icon.

The new characters are a part of an update of Unicode, the standards that regulate how text appears across platforms, but it’s up to the programmers behind iOS and Android to adopt the new standards with software updates.

While we already know what the middle finger Emoji will look like, here are our guesses for what the 10 most useful new Emojis will be — judging by their descriptions alone.

Rolled-Up Newspaper: To tell your colleagues that the viral video they sent you is old news.

Linked Paperclips: An international SOS symbol for “Help, I’m bored at work and passing the time by linking paperclips at my desk!”

Ballot Box With Bold Check: Didn’t you hear? “I Voted” stickers are so 2012.

Oil Drum: For debating the country’s reliance on fossil fuels during your free time.

Solid Quilt Square Ornament: To wordlessly remind your quilting group of your next meeting.

Black Droplet: For when you want to informally poll your neighbors about whether they think acid rain is to blame for your struggling garden.

Fax Icon: For when you’re mourning the loss of outdated technology and need a quick way to express your sadness to others.

Spider Web: The easiest approach to telling your girlfriend that you had a run-in with some strange arachnids and are actually Spider-Man now.

Man In Business Suit Levitating: To tell someone in HR that the new company wellness program is really showing you the way to enlightenment.

Black Skull And Crossbones: A succinct, easily understood way to summon pals to a Pirates of the Caribbean marathon on short notice.

TIME texting

Your Cell Phone Is Going to Ruin Your Weekend

At least that’s Alex Cornell, a videographer known for some of his provocative videos, thinks. Cornell released this guide to a potentially worrying trend: group texts destroying weekend plans. The inspiration for the video? Cornell couldn’t say exactly when he spoke to Mashable. “Honestly, it’s every text conversation I ever have these days,” he said.

[Mashable]

TIME Gadgets

Apple’s Patent to Auto-Disable Texting While Driving Is Old News

Anti-texting tools capable of disabling mobile devices on the fly have been around for years.

The idea that a master control device placed in your car or truck or rental vehicle might automatically deactivate your smartphone’s ability to text has been around for awhile: There’s an app that’ll disable phone texting if it detects motion above 10 m.p.h., for instance, or another from AT&T that’ll do so the same once you reach 25 m.p.h. We’ve written about a few ourselves in recent years, like Scosche CellControl, or TextBuster. They’re not really news.

Bear that in mind as you’re reading reports that Apple might (gasp!) have lockout designs on your handheld computing device while operating a motor vehicle. First, the news stems from a patent, and patents slot somewhere between hypotheticals and parking spaces. And second, Apple filed this particular patent back in 2008 — this is just the patent coming to light.

Here’s the gist, scraped from U.S. patent 8,706,143, published today for what Apple describes as a “Driver handheld computing device lock-out.”

…The lock-out mechanisms disable the ability of a handheld computing device to perform certain functions, such as texting, while one is driving. In one embodiment, a handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism without requiring any modifications or additions to a vehicle by using a motion analyzer, a scenery analyzer and a lock-out mechanism. In other embodiments, the handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism with modifications or additions to the vehicle, including the use of signals transmitted by the vehicle or by the vehicle key when engaged with the vehicle.

In other words, pretty much like the apps mentioned above. Apple’s imprimatur could carry significantly more water, of course, if it’s working with automotive manufacturers to make the technology work automatically (or optionally) with its iOS device lineup. And while anti-texting app-makers like Cinqpoint have talked about offering iOS versions down the line, your alternatives in iOS at this point are limited to workarounds that don’t actually disable texting, because Apple doesn’t allow it. Whether that’s because Apple’s been waiting to roll out its own solution, or for security reasons, say to prevent rogue apps hijacking your phone’s messaging capabilities, is anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, the real debate governing hard and fast anti-texting solutions is over here; that’s where the conversation has to start, anyway.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser