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.