But it seems that smartphones – or the way in which they’re used – can be a source of irritation too: a recent survey about mobile phone etiquette found nearly 70 per cent of us know someone with bad phone manners.
The fact that the same survey found only a fifth of us think our own mobile behaviour may need some improvement begs the question: do your smartphone manners make the grade?
We conducted our own straw poll among colleagues to come up with a list of some of the habits people find most irritating in the workplace or in a business context.
1. Wacky or too-loud ringtones
It’s pretty easy to tune out colleagues’ bog-standard ringtones in the office; less so with more distinctive or quirky ringtones. If your phone ringing at work regularly turns colleagues’ heads, it could be that your ringtone is annoying or just too loud. And in our office poll the Samsung ‘whistle’ text alert was also mentioned as having the potential to annoy when it’s heard too often.
Apart from irritating colleagues, a non-standard ringtone can also cause embarrassment in certain situations – as demonstrated by this clip of BBC political editor Nick Robinson on a live TV show earlier this year.
2. Checking emails / texts in meetings
This was seen as a definite ‘don’t’ in our office poll. What about very long meetings? They usually have a comfort break or two scheduled in the agenda, giving you the chance to have a quick look at your emails while you’re away from other attendees if you really can’t be away from them for a few hours.
3. Talking on the phone while being served
Last year a supermarket checkout assistant hit the headlines when she refused to serve a customer who was talking on a mobile phone. At the time, popular opinion came down on the side of the checkout assistant who was seen as striking a blow for good manners.
That was certainly the view of most of those who took part in our office poll, although one honest soul did plead guilty to this crime, owning up to taking a call from our MD while paying for purchases in Boots recently. She said: “I answered the call, said ‘Can I call you back please?’ and hung up. I said sorry to the assistant but felt so guilty I’ll never do it again.”
4. Not turning your phone off (or putting it on silent) during business meetings
It’s fairly well accepted that answering calls while in a business meeting is a no-no. But is it bad manners even to let it ring in a meeting? Opinion was split on this one – while some of our poll respondents said phones should be turned off or on silent during meetings, others felt it was OK for a phone to ring (provided the call is then rejected!) except in very formal meetings.
Most felt it was fine, when expecting an important call that can’t be postponed, to mention this at the start of a meeting, apologise in advance for the interruption, and leave the room discreetly when the call comes.
5. Prioritising phone contact over other interactions
The last irritating smartphone habit on our list is the generic one of focusing on your phone to the exclusion of people in your presence.
We’re giving the final word on this to Debretts.com, the UK’s go-to guide to social skills and etiquette for more than two centuries. Its advice is clear: “People in the flesh deserve more attention than a gadget.”
So it appears that even in the era of the smartphone, good manners never go out of fashion.