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With organisations the world over implementing work-from-home (or, telecommuting) policies to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s a good time to bring up the topic of phone etiquette.
Picking up the phone and calling someone is quite a lost art in the era of emails and Skype messages, so Korn Ferry canvassed some career coaches to find the wrinkles of using the phone.
Beware of background noise
The non-office work environment—whether it’s the local coffee shop or your kitchen table—is going to come with a new set of sounds that can disrupt the flow of a call. Get ahead by alerting others to your sound challenges, and mute yourself as much as you can.
“Because people take calls from lots of different places now, it’s a common courtesy to either mute when you’re not talking or let people know ahead of time where you’ll be so they can understand the context,” says Kristi Hedges, founder of the Hedges Company in Arlington, Virginia.
Also, mind your speakerphone use: to you it may sound quiet, but the person on the other end of the line probably can hear the laundry tumbling in the background. Finally, make sure to test your headphones or earbuds.
Listen to your own voice
The way we sound in person is often different from how we sound on the phone, in part because cell phones don’t always reproduce a voice’s full range. There’s also the fact that most people hate the sound of their own voice because we hear ourselves differently than outsiders, thanks to vocal vibrations in our heads that other people don’t hear.
Of course, you can work on sounding more professional by recording yourself and playing it back, to scrutinise whether your nervous giggle or habit of saying “yeah” too often needs some editing.
Know the level of urgency
One of the best ways to avoid a smartphone faux pas is to set ground rules upfront of what’s urgent and what isn’t. “If there is no expectation, then the assumption is ASAP,” Hedges says. If you don’t want to make people feel that way, tell them it isn’t urgent, or establish levels of importance; maybe an email can be answered in due course, but a text message means it’s urgent.
“Oftentimes, people don’t expect an immediate reply,” Hedges says. “It’s just that they’re sending you something when they are thinking about it.”
Back yourself up
Once you’ve decided how to respond to a call, text, or email, it’s a good idea to back up your action. If you called your boss back but didn’t leave a voice message, you can also email saying you tried to connect. Or you could send a text to say you saw that you missed the call but was in the middle of another one.
That way your boss knows you’re paying attention, and if you’re called out for not answering the phone, you can defend yourself by showing your written attempt to get in touch.
Keep your phone clean
Yes, you can contract the coronavirus from your phone. The virus can live on glass surfaces (such as your mobile phone) for up to 96 hours and plastic (like a normal phone) for 72 hours, according to the World Health Organization. Experts say to clean the phone surface—a face wipe or baby wipe will do—especially if you share your phone with someone else.
Image / iStock