Apr 11 2013
The art of the text message: can texting be a useful tool at work?

By Sally Pearman.

At the Centre I'm responsible for managing our in-house training events. These happen up and down the country, any day of the week, at a range of times and locations. As you can imagine, our trainers are often travelling to and from workshops, so quick and concise communication is always something I crave.

So in 2013 I have made the bold decision; to text.

My first port of call was my old friend Google. I naively assumed there would be a ‘Manager's Guide to Texting', a huge wealth of tips and tricks around using texts in a more formal setting. No, what I stumbled across was a whole range of dating text advice sites, not exactly what I had in mind.

So since January I've been compiling my own do's and don'ts for texting at work. I don't think I need to tell anyone reading this blog that vowels are in (‘please' instead of ‘plz'!) and MEGALOLS are out, but I have encountered a number texting tips that I think you might find useful. Including how do you sign off from a text without the traditional ‘xxx'.

People aren't always at their desks
More and more people are working in consultant style roles, attending meetings, delivering pitches and working remotely. It can be a good 12 hours before they get a chance to sit down and trawl through their emails. If you have an urgent message, a change in logistics or a deadline, a quick text can be the perfect way to ensure your colleague gets the information they need.

"Your materials have arrived at the venue but you'll need to bring your laptop."

A text stands out on a smart phone
I have an iPhone, 52 apps, four email accounts and more social media than you can shake a very large stick at. So much noise that I've chosen to turn off the alerts for everything. Everything, except calls, and texts. This is the case for a lot of people. But whereas it can be hard to take a call if you're on public transport or in a client meeting, a text message is something you can read at your convenience.

People like what they like
Whether that's Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, email or a good old fashioned chat. Most people have a preferred communication channel. I've found that some trainers and clients have really appreciated the speed and simplicity of a text. It's quick and the important information is glaringly obvious. Think about the informal applications of texting.

"Can you grab some milk and spinach on your way home?"

Short, clear texts really appeal to people that already use texting for domestic to-do lists.

But if you're someone that enjoys a conversation and likes to talk around a subject, receiving a text message from a colleague can seem a bit cold and demanding. As a rule of thumb, if someone doesn't respond to your text it's a good sign that texting does not float their boat.

That's not a text, that's an essay
We've all done it, and we've all received it. A text message that scrolls over five screens. At the time it might seem like everything you're saying is relevant and urgent but to the person receiving it it'll feel like you're dumping information.

If it's more than three sentences long then your text needs to be an email. This means your colleague can really take the time to digest everything you're saying when they're at their desk. If you've sent more than three texts in a conversation you should probably be on the phone. If it's complex or sensitive information then face to face is ultimately best.

When we train in Influencing skills and Persuasive writing we talk about mirroring. Making your tone, body language and words mirror the person you're trying to build rapport with. This can easily be done in text messages but as a rule, start more formally. If they use ‘Hi' and sign off with a  then feel free to mirror their informal style. In the same way, some people sign off texts using ‘Thanks' or just an initial. This can seem quite abrupt (or even rude!) so err on the side of caution until you've established some texting etiquette with your colleague.

And remember, not everyone's the same. A ‘LOL' or ‘Yours sincerely' might sit awkwardly in a text so do think about who you're texting and how you usually talk to each other at work.

It's 9pm and I'm watching Game of Thrones
Unless your colleague actively shares their mobile number in their email signature or it's in your organisation's contact list, consider whether they'll want you texting them. Some people will happily field a work related email or call in their own time but be considerate; people will inevitably have commitments outside of work.

I'll happily receive and send texts within the 8am to 7pm window. Particularly if I've been out of the office or am travelling from events. But no one really wants to be thinking about work just before bed. If in doubt, just ask what they're happy with. It might be that texting becomes an ‘in case of emergencies only' back up, or some people may really appreciate it when they're abroad or working away from home and internet is unreliable.

Sorry, who is this?
Just because you're boldly stepping into the world of texting doesn't mean your manager or your client is going to have your phone number saved. Include your name and organisation at the start of the text message to keep things clear.

"Hello, this is Sally@the-Centre. Just texting to let you know your flights are booked for Paris."

The sign off...
Try writing a text that simply finishes at the end of your final sentence. It's more difficult than it sounds. It's somehow ingrained that you need punctuate a text with a  or some kisses to ensure that the brief and punchy message doesn't come across as abrupt or demanding.

But it is okay you can, and I have*, managed to wean myself away from the informal ending that really should be reserved for significant others. If you need to, you can simply use shortened, animated versions of the usual email sign offs.

‘Thanks!' ‘Best wishes' ‘Best of luck!' ‘Do feel free to call me if you need anything else'

Ultimately with all communication it's important to think about what's timely, appropriate, and if you're representing an organisation and communicating in a way that extends their brand and values. I'm definitely a text convert and I think, as long as you're respectful, it can be a really hand tool.

*this process did take some time!

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