New Rules for the age of connectivity

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

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In a world where business no longer happens during set hours and handheld mobile devices make most people instantly reachable, email correspondence seems to defy all conventions — a free-for-all of nonstop communication.

But some etiquette still exists, no matter how nebulous, says Jack Drexler, associate professor at the College of Business at Oregon State University. “The issue is always company specific,” he says. “Each should have its own norms, rules and expectations.”

For example, companies that want to convey a strong image of customer service might require that employees respond to certain types of emails within a specific time frame. But most companies never address the issue, allowing employees to use their own good judgment.

At the Empire Group, a Portland interactive agency specializing in web development, CEO Jonathon Hensley says he and his eight employees follow a loose 24-hour rule.

“It’s an unspoken window of time for getting back to the average, pressing email,” he says. “Not expecting an instantaneous response shows that a social etiquette still exists.”

In many cases, his own availability depends on the client, Hensley says. Especially when he’s out of the office.

“If I’m working with a client, they don’t want to hear that I’m not reachable,” he says. “Vacation is more about allowing myself to be on call and not sitting behind my desk.”

Daniel Wakefield Pasley, a self-employed writer and art director who lives in Portland, agrees that availability has become the norm, and he has no qualms about emailing or texting any vacationing colleague if money is on the line.

For him, the social etiquette lies with the person on the receiving end. “If you don’t want to be contacted,” he says “turn off your phone.”

And while the “off” button may send a clear, albeit temporary message, ultimately it’s worth defining the gray areas surrounding issues of availability and response times for both you and your employees.                           

LUCY BURNINGHAM


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