by Dr. Kaarin Anderson Ryan
With so many communication options available to us, sometimes it can be difficult to decide how to contact someone. For many of us, texting has become the default. Here at PBS, we encourage ongoing support and open communication among our staff. We offer secure communication channels through our HIPAA-compliant Google Workspace (emails and document sharing), and have some ability to share clinical and case information using NPA. We also acknowledge that staff share cell phone numbers with each other for phone calls and texting throughout the week to maintain open lines of communication so we can serve schools and families while effectively collaborating with team members. Texting is a big part of these ongoing communications for many of us.
In our business, we have strict rules about exchanging texts with families and teachers due to HIPAA and FERPA laws. **According to these guidelines, we avoid texting anything personal or private with families or teachers. We reserve the use of texts with families and teachers for logistics and scheduling.** But when it comes to texting supervisors and colleagues, we do not have clear guidelines or expectations. Before we get into deciding when to use texting as a communication with colleagues, let’s take a look of some of the ups and downs of using texts with our colleagues.
Benefits of using texts for work:
● Faster response times.
● Convenience. It is just so easy.
● Higher read and response rate than email.
● Less intrusive/interruptive than a phone call.
● Great for scheduling meetings or larger conversations.
● Can increase productivity due to speed and ease of communication.
Downsides of using texts for work:
● Too many incoming texts can be disruptive to productivity. Americans check their phone, on average, 80 times
● Distinguishing between conversations that are simple enough to resolve over text vs. conversations that need
more detail and attention.
● Text messages can cause communication difficulties at times because it may be hard to read conversational
tone in text messages.
● Using text messages may blur the lines between work time and home time.
You may often be faced with making a decision about whether you should text a colleague or a supervisor. To help you as you make these decisions, consider the following guidelines.
Before establishing texts as a way to communicate with colleagues or supervisors, discuss preferences with them. Are they OK with exchanging text messages with you during the day? Are there certain times that are not good for them to have you send text messages?
Limit text messages about work to work hours, unless you have made an exception with your colleague or supervisor.
Evaluate the situation before texting. Is this something that needs a rapid response or can it wait? If the question or
discussion is not pressing or in need of a quick reply, email may be a better option.
Consider the complexity of the subject you want to communicate. Is it a complex discussion or does it only require a simple answer? More complex discussions or questions may be better served through email, phone calls, or meetings.
Avoid using texting as a first point of contact with a new colleague, supervisor or employee. It is always better to get to know someone in-person, or on a video chat or phone call if in-person is not possible.
Even amongst employees and colleagues, it is important to protect sensitive information when texting. For topics such as salary, work disputes or conflict, or personal situations it is better to use other formats for communication.
Keep it brief. Try not to send long, rambling texts to colleagues for work-related topics.
Be open with your colleagues. If you feel that someone is texting you too frequently, or about topics that would be better suited to other formats, have an open discussion about expectations. Help your colleagues to understand your
own preferences to avoid problems with communication.
Finally, remember that texting is one of our least secure means of communication, and as such, should never be used for private or confidential information. This includes names of people we support, or any information that would identify them, to someone who might accidentally see a text message come through on a phone.