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Leah Eichler


Civility at Work Is Over, But Productivity Is Through the Roof!

Posted: 10/11/2013 12:29 pm

Approximately 10 years ago, I remember sharing a taxicab with a colleague and mid-conversation she pulled out her BlackBerry to respond to an email. Even though I knew she needed to respond to an important event at work, I recall thinking how her behaviour was the pinnacle of rudeness.

Fast-forward to today and that pattern not only occurs constantly, I'm likely one of the worst perpetrators. I literally can't resist the buzz of my iPhone and read every email, text and tweet surreptitiously, even when I'm in the middle of a real-life conversation. While I can often pull off two conversations, I occasionally fail miserably. Sometimes, I get so deeply engrossed in my secondary, digital conversation that I can only muster monosyllabic responses in real life before conceding that I haven't heard a thing.

I'm certainly not alone in perpetuating this uncivilized behaviour and it's only getting worse. I often count the number of people engaging in digital conversations while at restaurants with real life people. I once counted eight people at a table, all interacting with their phones. This isn't mere multi-tasking, it's something more complicated and arguably more sinister. We live in a time of multi-communicating, where no one person gets singular attention for very long. It's the institutionalization of rudeness and with the healthy growth of smartphone usage in Canada -- 47 per cent of us own one, up from 34 per cent in 2012 -- it's only going to get worse.

Yet, despite this self-awareness, I have no intention of changing anytime soon. My desire to be available and immediately responsive to a variety of people at the same time is just too great. So what do we do with this knowledge that workplace civility will never be the same?

To find an answer, I turned to my favourite source to give me a pulse on people's perspective: Twitter. One friend said the proper etiquette while multi-communicating is to explain that you need to indulge in a slight technical diversion to anyone in the room, deal with it quickly and then refocus your attention to live company. Another Twitter acquaintance was harsher and said she walks away from a conversation when presented with this behaviour. Academics, too, are torn over the impact of this behaviour in the workplace. Jane Webster, a professor of management information systems at Queen's School of Business, and Ann-Frances Cameron, an associate professor at HEC of Montreal studied the effects of multi-communicating and concluded that on one hand, it leads to a downward spiral of incivility. On the other, it's a necessary behaviour for specific business environments.

"The biggest problem we found (as a result of multi-communicating) is this perception of incivility," explained Ms. Webster. Consistently asking a colleague to repeat things raises suspicion levels that you aren't paying attention, which feels discourteous. That impacts feelings of trust, which can spiral into poor working relationships. Incivility, she added, is considered "low level deviant behaviour," meaning that many will tolerate it, but left unchecked it can spin out of control.

Multi-communicating is a lot more complicated than multitasking because instead of juggling tasks, you are juggling people and it's important to gauge what is acceptable in different corporate cultures and among specific colleagues.

"There are some people who interpret it differently and the ones that like to focus on one task get offended quite quickly. It's important to know how the people you work with like to communicate," she advised. She also found that employees have a lower tolerance for multi-communicating when it comes from a manager, versus a colleague. Being transparent, not hiding the behaviour is the best approach.

Yet, multi-communicating has some benefits, including improving efficiencies in some workplace environments. Ms. Webster uses the example of calling your phone carrier to explain a problem. After waiting on the line for an hour to get a response, a customer would hope that the agent on the line would multi-communicate internally to find a solution.

Multi-communicating also reduces organizational bottlenecks, explained Ms. Cameron. For example, while in a teleconference, texting a co-worker for an update on an issue being discussed carries a benefit.

In other words, we may be institutionalizing rudeness, but increasingly it's the only productive way to work. Time to get past our misgivings about being rude and determine the proper etiquette of managing multiple conversations, on multiple devices all at once. Naturally, some will continue to feel slighted and if I've been the one to offend, please accept my apology via text in advance.

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  • Clear

    Called <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2012/11/7/3613664/clear-for-mac-review" target="_blank">"The iPhone's most beautiful to-do list app"</a> by The Verge, <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/clear/id493136154?mt=8" target="_blank">Clear</a> ($9.99 for Mac) is a productivity app for those who care about aesthetics just as much -- if not more -- than functionality. But it's also incredibly user-friendly: Just swipe to check an item off the list, and simply shake your phone for the option to email your list. The user can also create separate lists for work, shopping, personal goals and more. <a href="http://gizmodo.com/5885307/clear-app-cross-chores-off-your-to+do-list-with-a-swipe" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a> deems it "perfect for busy people."

  • Pocket

    Formerly known as Read It Later, the free app <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pocket-formerly-read-it-later/id309601447?mt=8" target="_blank">Pocket</a> can be used to save articles, videos and web pages that you don't have time to read but want to return to later. Like Evernote, the app syncs across platforms for easy access and streamlined link-saving. CNET gave the app a five-star review, <a href="http://reviews.cnet.com/software/pocket-android/4505-3513_7-35473909.html" target="_blank">writing</a>: "If you're looking for a bookmarking tool that syncs across devices, then look no further. Better than Instapaper and other competitors, Pocket is the app to beat in the category."

  • Evernote

    Sync all your notes, clippings, to-do lists and reminders across devices with Evernote, the highly-rated productivity app that makes it to the top of many reviewers' lists. The <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/evernote/id281796108?mt=8" target="_blank">free app</a> conserves time and energy by saving all your files, photos, reminders, to-do lists, tweets and more in one app accessible from all your platforms. Email notes to yourself or others, and search within notes for easy access to any information. "Evernote is the last notebook you'll ever need," <a href="http://socialmediatoday.com/node/1524231" target="_blank">Social Media Today</a> wrote.

  • MindNode

    Before you dismiss the idea of mind-mapping as something out of The Matrix, try the brainstorming tool <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mindnode/id312220102?mt=8" target="_blank">MindNode</a> ($9.99). The iPhone and iPad app could lead you to some of your best ideas in less time by allowing you to organize projects and concepts in a vibrant graphic. "The theory is that these large, pictorial networks mirror the way our brains work, making it easier to spot connections and insert new ideas," <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/02/08/5-best-apps-for-getting-and-staying-organized/2/" target="_blank">a Forbes article explains</a>.

  • Mailbox

    If just looking at your overflowing Gmail inbox makes your pulse quicken, the free iPhone app <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mailbox/id576502633?mt=8" target="_blank">Mailbox</a> is your new best friend. The app helps you tackle that mounting inbox -- with the goal of getting down to the elusive "inbox zero" -- with convenient labels for all your unread emails and a feature that allows you to instantly swipe messages to archive or trash. "Mailbox largely fixes a problem most of us have with email: quickly getting rid of the junk we don't want, and saving the stuff we do for later," <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/mailbox-iphone-app-review-2013-2#ixzz2YUY5c7Yq" target="_blank">writes Business Insider</a>. "You'll want to give it a try."

  • CloudOn

    <a href="http://mashable.com/2013/04/26/5-apps-boost-work-productivity/" target="_blank">Recommended by Mashable</a> for boosting work productivity, CloudOn (<a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cloudon/id474025452?mt=8" target="_blank">free in the App Store</a>) allows you to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint to create documents on the go using your iPhone, iPad or Droid. Users can sync with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive accounts, and also email files to contacts directly from mobile devices, so you don't have to wait until you get to a computer to add that attachment. "If you find yourself in a pinch needing to work with Microsoft Office files, the free CloudOn app might be just what you’re looking for," <a href="http://techland.time.com/2013/04/15/50-must-have-ipad-apps/slide/cloudon/#ixzz2YUZao2Ru" target="_blank">writes TIME TechLand</a>.

  • Checkmark

    You've written on at least five to-do lists that you need to pick up your dry cleaning, but can never seem to remember at the moment you're actually walking past the dry cleaner. Of course, there's an app for that. Try <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/checkmark/id524873453?mt=8" target="_blank">Checkmark</a>, which can set up reminders based on time and location. For $4.99, users can create repeat notifications, or snooze reminders to save for next time. "While Apple's built-in Reminders app does location-based tasks pretty well, Checkmark makes it dead simple," <a href="http://lifehacker.com/5963231/checkmark-is-still-the-best-location+based-reminders-app-around-is-99-today" target="_blank">LifeHacker raves</a>.


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