New Rules For Business SMS: How to Use SMS Successfully in Today’s Workplace

Communication has always driven the business world, and the technological advancements in how we conduct business have been instrumental in providing many opportunities for small businesses to seize. Still, there are drawbacks to all this increased productivity. 

Thanks to the reality of constantly being in touch, we now live in an interruption-driven society. We’re constantly available to do our best work, but at the same time, constant notifications are demanding our attention. With so much competition for attention, is it any wonder that more than 90% of employees surveyed estimate they waste up to 40% of their work time on unproductive tasks? You need to communicate with your team, but you also need to carefully choose how you communicate to maximize efficiency and respect the time of everyone in your organization.

Related: What Is a Business VoIP Phone System?

Your business needs to take advantage of SMS communication without becoming just another distraction from your team’s work and even personal life. The strength of SMS is that it’s clear and concise when used correctly—but without following specific rules for business communication, your texts may do more harm than good. 

Appropriate and Effective SMS for Business

Proper and productive business communication is the best way to set yourself on the path to success. However, being part of the constant interruption your team faces each day isn’t only annoying to your team but can also be downright counterproductive. Let’s look more closely at SMS, its effective use, and the new rules for using SMS in the workplace.

What is SMS?

First, let’s start by specifying that many different technologies could potentially drive what we think of as “SMS.” SMS stands for “short messaging service,” a protocol that sends short messages over wireless networks. 

For the sake of our discussion here, we won’t split hairs concerning text or instant messaging via hosted apps. We’ll just refer to every communication that someone will likely instantly receive on a mobile device as “SMS.” Although most people receive mobile notifications of emails, we’ll be excluding them from the topic of SMS, as they’re generally considered a less urgent form of communication.

SMS is a tool that would have entirely changed the idea of business even a few generations ago. Texts see average open rates of nearly 98% compared to around 20% for email, so it’s one of the best ways to communicate when urgency is crucial.

Younger workers also prefer SMS for work communication over traditional email and face-to-face meetings. While this depends largely on the individual, text communications in the workplace will only get more popular as Millennials and Gen Z fill out more and more of your team.

Instant communication with your team, regardless of location, is an amazing power, but with great power comes great responsibility. 

The New Rules for Business SMS

The idea of being able to contact your team anywhere and anytime revolutionizes the flow of business. As convenient as it may be, however,  it’s also very invasive into the lives of your employees. We live in an age where a cell phone goes everywhere with you, but that doesn’t mean you always have the capacity for work to be one ding away.

When was the last time you received a work text on vacation or at an important family event? While a quick work text over important issues can save your day if you’re the one in need, remember to take into consideration the effect it has on the receiver’s day as well. 

Following these simple rules helps keep your most immediate form of communication professional throughout your business.

1. Only Use for Urgent Matters

Sometimes, during the course of business, small issues can seem like urgent problems. Before texting employees during their personal time, take a few minutes to think about whether your question or issue needs to be dealt with right now.

Remember that SMS will alert them wherever they are and whatever they are doing. Since many people will return emails as soon as they’re available for business, you’re necessarily pulling them into work mode when they’re not available if you’re escalating to SMS.

Being able to fire out an SOS directly into someone’s pocket is extremely useful, but can also turn into a nightmare if you use it to be an ever-present force in your employees’ lives. 

If it can wait for them to respond to an email, let it wait. Once you send the email, don’t follow up with a text. Give them a chance to read and respond. This gives both methods of communication a chance to serve their ideal purpose and prevents the worker on the other end from feeling pestered or harassed.

2. Be Respectful

When you’re messaging your team outside of work, remember that they are individuals with lives away from work. Don’t let texting become the modern equivalent of a passive-aggressive note in the breakroom. 

Employees give their work time to an employer, but you can’t reasonably expect that to extend to all hours of the day. Respect your team as equals in communication, particularly when you need to communicate during their time. The mutual respect this attitude fosters will probably bring about more help when you need it.

Just because you can speak to someone anytime doesn’t always mean you should. You may feel entitled to text a reminder of a work mess someone left you to clean up. A quick message to address the issue may seem like a good idea but usually isn’t if it’s something that could wait for a future discussion.

While this sort of subtle dig into the offending party may feel necessary— like training or discipline—what it may feel like to the receiver is an invasion of their personal life. Creating anxiety about work during off time is not a productive training activity, nor does it lead to productive work communication.

Try to avoid one-sided conversations when it comes to work texting. You may be overstepping your bounds if you’re texting them more than they’re texting you—it’s easy to get carried away when communicating with your team is always one swipe away. Instead, make personal notes for future discussions. This way, you can avoid texting your team repeated minor notes that you could easily include in one face-to-face conversation.

If it’s after their regular working hours, remember to consider whether they can help at that moment. If there’s no helpful way they can respond until they return to work, you can respect their personal time, send an email, and follow up during their next available timeframe.

3. Clearly Communicate (Only) Simple Messages

Not all methods of communication are the same for every circumstance, and you want to use the right tools for the right job. SMS is great at what it does—putting you in instant contact with someone no matter where they are—but it’s not always the best solution.

Text messaging is an excellent way to communicate simple concepts and information, but more complex topics usually come across more efficiently through another method. For highly technical and specific information, for example, SMS’s limited context and capacity may not be appropriate. Your message can come across more completely through email, complete with documentation and thorough instructions.

Related: Why Your Business Needs Online Video Chat

Some topics are complex for reasons beyond the technical and are best conducted face-to-face or over a voice call whenever possible. For subjective topics involving opinions, impressions, or relative descriptions, participants may lose a lot when communicating via simple text without tone or expression.

Likewise, sensitive conversations on topics like HR issues, payroll, or coaching should almost never occur over text. Text is a limited medium overall; each participant can interpret simple words differently.  Just like emails, text messages can be misunderstood. 

4. Have Patience

Another symptom of our interruption-driven world is that we’ve become accustomed to getting everything instantly. People aren’t computers, though. Be patient. Remember that if you’re texting people outside work or working hours, you’re using their personal time. Be patient with their time, and they’ll be generous to help when you need it.

It’s easy to think that it’s just so simple for someone to respond. It’s just a few seconds of their time, right? Maybe, but maybe not. In our work-from-anywhere world, the person you’re texting could be anywhere. You have no idea what they’re doing at that exact moment, and the notification in their pocket may have to wait a minute or an hour.

Also, remember that one of the advantages of SMS over phone calls is that the recipient gets time to think about the answer. Maybe you’re waiting because they’re verifying information before they send it to you, or they’re contemplating the most precise way to explain their answer.

5. Ask Yourself: Is Text Best?

Before you rush to text your team, weigh out other options for your communications. Does your message follow the rules above? Is there a better option in a voice call or email?

Our culture has become so comfortable with texting that it can often be much more casual than other communication methods. While some may be very comfortable with texting, everybody prefers communicating via SMS in slightly different ways. This can sometimes result in misunderstood information or even heightened tensions in the workplace if there aren’t conventions developed around SMS messaging on your team.

6. Create Guidelines

SMS is an excellent tool for business. It can be one of your most valuable communication tools. Get together with your team and work out a system that everyone is happy with regarding when it is ok to text. 

Not everyone will have the same needs for personal time, so discuss this with your entire team to learn everyone’s preferences before coming to a consensus. Knowing your team’s exact needs is one of the unique advantages of small businesses. You have the opportunity to make sure everyone is happy with the way you communicate.

The Stoplight System

One method that’s worked for many businesses is the Stoplight System, in which each team member agrees on which times are ok to text depending on the severity of the circumstances.

Employees “green light” times that are always fine to text, “yellow light” times for business emergencies only, and “red light”  times that are never acceptable for receiving texts. Using this system, everyone on the team can have clear expectations of everyone’s availability for text communication. While that means sometimes you can’t instantly contact an individual, they’ll at least know when the interruptions in their life won’t be coming from work.

7. Stick to the Rules

Whatever system you choose, stick to it. Make sure your entire team also respects the agreed upon guidelines. After a little while, you’ll find that established expectations are much easier on everyone.

Bending the rules you’ve made can make it easy for you and your team to slide back into unproductive texting. Hold fast! Maintaining well-defined boundaries is crucial to maintaining the most effective communication possible in your business. 

Effectively Using SMS in Your Business

SMS can be critical to the success of your business, especially if your team isn’t always together in one place. Like most technology that powers your business, however, it’s got to be used correctly to propel you to success.

The rules that we’ve outlined above will help give you a framework for building more productive communications within your business, no matter where your employees are working. Building effective communication is a two-way street, and your team deserves standards that honor their time. 

Don’t be part of the interruption problem. Let your team work uninterrupted when you can, and let them enjoy personal time without invasive texts. Establish boundaries and follow the rules to keep your business communication clear and effective.

Better Communication for Better Business

Effective communication across your business is essential. You need the tools to streamline communication throughout your organization, and there’s no reason to feel like your business’ options are limited. Effective SMS and email are only the beginning.  Leveraging the best technology to expand your capabilities and keep your team in touch creates a more efficient and successful business overall.

At, helping you communicate better is what we’re all about. Our business phone systems are designed to put advanced communication technology in the hands of your small business. Contact us today to get started and transform the way your team communicates.


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