By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy

Smartphones are an indispensable part of conducting business today, and it’s not surprising that more small businesses are beginning to use them in place of traditional landlines. When used properly, smartphones can greatly increase an employee’s productivity, allowing them to stay on top of calls, emails, and messages when they’re away from their desk.

However, it’s no secret that smartphones can be distracting, and it can be difficult to know when an employee is messaging with clients or texting their buddies about weekend plans. To help alleviate the issue of smartphones being more of a distraction than a productivity tool, it’s crucial to establish basic rules that will set boundaries and develop a certain etiquette for your small business.

Collaborate with your team to create a set of rules for your workplace and remember to follow them yourself and enforce them unilaterally. The following suggestions can get you started, but every company is unique, so remember to tailor the rules to meet your team’s specific needs.

Phone-free meetings

Even if smartphones are an essential part of your work flow, in-person meetings should still take priority. Make sure your employees are fully present during company meetings or one-on-one collaborations with a strict “Phones Face Down or Out Of Sight” policy.

Set smartphone work hours

An advantage to using smartphones for work is the ability to stay in touch 24/7, but it’s just as important for your employees to maintain a work/life balance. Setting clear guidelines, such as no work emails, calls, or texts before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. (except for emergencies) can help set boundaries between work and personal time.

Define acceptable methods of communication

Smartphones at work make it easy to slip into less-professional forms of communication. Set rules for how your employees should communicate with prospective clients (e.g. emails or phone calls only), regular contacts (e.g. texting and instant messaging), and with each other (e.g. a specific platform for internal messaging). Consider banning the use of emoticons or acronyms (e.g. BRB!) in certain communications.

Voicemail expectations

If your employees are using personal smartphones for work calls, they should update their voicemail daily just as they would on a work landline. For example, if they’ll be in meetings all day, their current message should reflect this. If a personal phone is the only method of communication your clients have with your employees, it’s important to keep them informed.

Smartphone etiquette for open floor plans

If your office has an open floor plan, consider adding these basic smartphone etiquette rules to your policy:

  • Don’t use the speakerphone for phone calls or to listen to voicemail
  • Pick a professional ringtone and silence it if you leave your phone at your desk
  • Take personal calls in the hallway, a conference room, or outside

Keeping your business secure

Allowing your employees to use their own smartphones, rather than supplying them with a work phone, is a huge cost savings for your business, but it does come with some risks — chief among them security.

Personal smartphones are harder to control and manage remotely, potentially putting your company’s data at risk. Enabling a VPN system for your employees to use when out of the office, plus instituting regular training regarding updating software, spotting malicious links, and downloading apps can help keep your company’s sensitive information safe.

As many small businesses are turning toward employees using their own devices, office smartphone etiquette is an important issue to tackle. These steps can help set some ground rules to define clear boundaries between work and personal time and set reasonable expectations for when and how smartphones should be used in the office.

Jennifer Pattison Tuohy is a freelance writer and contributor for Xfinity Mobile. She writes about mobile phone technology, consumer tech, small businesses, and green living for a variety of newspapers, magazines, and online publications.

Smartphone stock photo by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock