Etiquette Regarding Phone Usage at Work and Around People

So I’m curious about etiquette regarding phone usage at work and social situations. I ask as I’ve had an Apple Watch since October and would like to hopefully benefit from it more and ensuring that I’m not using my phone as much in the work day so I’m curious about etiquette regarding phone usage in work and social situations. I ask as I’ve had an Apple Watch since October and would like to hopefully benefit from it more in ensuring that I’m not using my phone as much in the work day. In the past at times I’d put my phone in airplane mode. My questions are three parts:

  1. Apple Watch users what notifications do you allow and do you allow taptic alerts or put your watch on DND mode?
  2. Do you use your phone throughout the work day or do you separate personal work from your work at work?
  3. Do you use your phone when taking to your friend or partner? Are there situations it’s more acceptable?
  1. I allow very few notifications. Text messages, Facebook messages, phone calls, calendar alerts, alarms and reminders are just about all of it. I do NOT get notifications on social media updates or emails. *
    A. The phone is absolutely in DND mode at all times. I get taptic alerts on the Watch.

  2. I use the phone throughout the workday. It is my primary computing device.

  3. I don’t use the phone if I’m in the middle of a conversation with a friend or my wife. ** If I do, I excuse myself.

Until literally today, I was getting news headlines sent to my phone and watch. I fiddled with it constantly, trying to find the right balance of headlines. Finally, literally today, I decided the right balance is “none.” If I’m not hearing police helicopters overhead, then I can wait a few hours to learn about it.

And that’s not entirely true about my wife: She and I just walk in on each other and start talking. Sometimes when she does that to me I’m using my phone (or iPad). Sometimes I just keep right on using it. She doesn’t seem to mind. When you’ve been married a while, you get weird habits. But if it’s an important conversation, I leave the phone alone.

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  1.  Watch has been set to silent (but not DND) since I got my Series 0 as early as I could and continues to this day now that I have Series 3. I limit notifications to Messages, Calls, Activity/Health, Dark Sky (precip alerts) and Carrot’s daily weather reports. My phone is also on silent at all times. In fact, I wish I could disable the ability to unmute it.
  2. Use iPhone throughout the day.
  3. I don’t even have my phone visible in a convo with another person - friend, family, co-worker or otherwise.

I live in a town where you are shamed for lighting any device (phone, watch, etc.) up in a movie theater and I love it!

One additional phone etiquette pet peeve: folks that listen to videos in public on their phone’s speakers. While the speakers have improved over the years, they are still tinny sounding and irritating once you get just a little distance from the device. It is very annoying noise pollution that so many people don’t seem to even realize they are inflicting on those around them. If I had piles of money sitting around, I’d create some billboards & full-page PSAs:

The iPhone comes with ear buds, please use them!


  1. Watch is never on DND mode. I have my notifications to only allow message type apps, calendar alerts, calls, and some emails through. I also have travel apps that give me notifications but unless I’m on a trip, I won’t get notifications from those anyway.
  2. I use my phone throughout the work day. I do product support, so some people have personal number. Sometimes if it’s a quick email and my email on my computer isn’t open, it’s easier to respond on my phone.
  3. If I’m being talked to directly or we are in conversation with a group then no I won’t. If my partner comes over and starts talking to me in the middle of me doing something important, then I’ll finish and then put the phone down.

Finally responding to those comments and I’m looking forward to the discussion further.

I like the fact that you’ve done your notifications on your iPhone ( or do you mean your Apple watch?). I also like that your in permanently DND at all times. Do you have this as a manual toggle or do you schedule it? What if someone calls you?

Had this realization to about news recently too. I realized that it was rather toxic to my well-being and I was happy not knowing about things immediately especially regarding political news.

I like your concept of excusing yourself if you need to use your phone while in the middle of a conversation.

Wait what’s the difference between silent and DND? Do you check your watch at certain times?

This is pretty cool! I’ve Had several theater and movie performances ruined when someone in front or next me has the light of their phone shining excessively. I like your rant about earbuds, if I don’t have my ear buds available I’ll make it loud enough that I can put it to my ear and hear the audio but not loud enough that others can hear. Granted sometimes I just say that all instead watched on my own time away from the public so as to not be rude.

I like this a lot. Maybe it’s a generational thing but I’ve had certain friends that can’t keep off the phone when I’m talking to them directly. Granted I’m fully admit I’m guilty of this sometimes too but I’m getting better at it. If I am expecting something I will tell them in advance that I am waiting for an important phone call for example. Mostly that’s unnecessary as calls and texts can wait.

I should take inventory of this as well to see what I have enabled for notifications. Is your watch never on DND mode because otherwise you’d miss notifications?

This is something super cool not imagine sort of unique to that culture. I like this a lot and certainly I think they might have a great idea of monitoring etiquette regarding phone conversations. I also like that phones are never used in restaurants and that there always on silent as nothing is worse than being out to an expensive dinner and someone in your party is constantly on their phone. I also like the idea of silent mode constantly. Do you use silent mode and DND at times or just silent mode? I’d like to train myself to get better at not mindlessly checking my phone. Kinda the whole “phantom vibration” effect.

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I misspoke. Both phone and watch are set to silent at all times. Phone automatically goes to DND at 10 pm and watch is set to reflect phone state so it is also DND. I switch DND off manually when I am up for the day.

The difference between DND and silent is haptic taps. When the phone is in silent mode I get notifications as haptic taps. When the phone is in DND I get no notifications at all.

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Pretty much. Since getting my watch, the only time my phone is not silent is when I am on after hours support and need to answer calls in the middle of the night.

So I’ve been in my job for over a week at an elementary school as an aid. I have my phone on me but often get notifications from my watch. I charge my phone midday because of my commute and use my watch. It works and doesn’t cause disturbance and I can still see group texts amongst us at work for coverage.

People seem to automatically assume that anyone using their phone is “playing” or otherwise not paying attention to those around them. I think it is not just the act of using the phone, it is the body language that informs whether someone is engaged or checked out. I often use my phone to take notes when in a meeting casual or otherwise. If I’m in a very small group I will quickly say “I’m going to take a few notes” as I start typing. In a larger group however it is usually not practical to interrupt the flow to do that just to assure others I’m still engaged. I do my best to nod at the right places, look up and make eye contact, and not type constantly. Device free is always best but when important Information is being shared I have to capture it somewhere other than my brain - :upside_down_face:

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I had this happen to me a while back when meeting with a supervisor. She thought I was just playing on my phone but in fact I was taking meeting notes.

I also think theres a difference between quickly responding to a text vs staring at your phone for a half hour when not on break.

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Hi Jonathan,

I can only comment on 2 & 3 and add little bit of insight re: 2 as a leader.

Addressing them in reverse order.

3 – I will often be at dinner with a friend of mine and we have some pretty in-depth conversations. We both use our phones to look up information and sometimes share the link right away to ensure we don’t forget. Same with photos, etc.

In those cases, we’re using our phones to augment and enhance our time together. I’ll do this in meetings sometimes, but I usually tell a good portion of people that I’m taking notes on my phone (which is true) and augment my notes w/ research.

It’s funny: This is when I most often use my iPad (networking luncheons, etc.). People automatically assume, if a person is using a tablet, they are taking notes. If they’re on a phone, they must be “goofing off”/texting friends, etc.

For #2. I have two military stories to share.

2-A) I was in charge of a public affairs detachment and took one of my senior soldiers to a HUGE meeting, discussing subordinate units’ training throughout the year.

Commanders were discussing their training calendars for the next year with their boss and support staff from every level. When someone mentioned something super-cool (visually exciting, demonstrated a key capability, etc., I excitedly wrote it down – Date, time, location, unit, extra-info, etc.).

I took notes; my sergeant alternated between notes and his phone. When we were walking out at the end, I was energized and had 5 - 6 key events I wanted us to send photographers and to and invite civilian media, etc.

I asked, "Did you write down the 5 - 6 implied tasks and the details so we can cover them? … He said, “No. They never called out our section by name and asked for us to do anything.” Nearly missed opportunities to multitasking!!

2-B) I had moved higher up on the “food chain” and was a staff officer by myself in a similar meeting. I was learning about events we would need to cover that afternoon or within a day, etc.

I spent most of the meeting using my tablet to text & email to my next-in-charge/subordinate(s) letting them know about things that were about to happen.

In both of those meetings, I may have addressed a few personal items; but kept things mostly on task. I’m accustomed to listening to two conversations at once but don’t rely on that skill very often.

re: Item 1 — Someday I’ll join the ranks of Apple Watch users(!).

I have to share a bit about a Millennial at a networking luncheon (not bashing Millennials or “the young,” just mentioning we all have to mentor where we can!).

We were talking about iPhone use in meetings and she said, “I’m so happy with my Apple Watch! Now, in meetings, I don’t have to keep looking at my phone, I can look at my watch every time I get a notification.” … I had to break her heart and tell her that most people my age running those meetings would frown just as hard, if not harder, at someone who kept checking their wrist every other minute during a meeting I was running!

Perception is everything!


P.S. I’m *Loving the iOS update that allows us to selectively edit app notifications right away! … Some things I thought, “Why yes, I’d love to hear from this app. have changed SO much.” … Just a couple of weeks’ eliminating certain apps notifications has streamlined my life and made things a lot more focused for me (Previously, I’d say, “I’ll get around to restricting that app later. … I swear I’ll get to it!!!”).

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I’m a millennial actually and I completely agree. Often I’ll keep my watch on though if I got an influx of messages I’ll throw it on DND. If the meeting is with a supervisor or longer then 5-10 minutes then I’ll put DND or airplane mode on my watch.

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Great idea!

I need to upgrade for the DND alone. … I suppose I can DND my phone and that will kill 99% of the notifications on my Garmin watch (but it still tells me to “Move!” at the most awkward times).

I think that I discussed the way I use the Apple Watch when I was a guest on MPU. It wouldn’t hurt to check out that episode (It’s in my profile; I can’t remember the number off hand). Some things have changed since that episode so I’ll just briefly outline my current use pattern:

  1. Two Watches
    1. Watch 1 for day
      1. All notifications and settings are mirrored
      2. Always on silent with haptic on
    2. Watch 2 for night
      1. Notifications and settings are not mirrored
        1. Messages, Phone, and one other app are on
        2. All other app notifications are silenced
      2. Always on silent with haptic on
      3. Always on Theatre Mode
  2. Phone is always on silent with DND turned on from 10pm to 8am

The reason for this set up is three-fold

  1. I don’t want to accidentally have sounded notifications on when they should be silent
  2. I need to be able to have emergency calls come in at night that are not on my contacts list
  3. I don’t want other than the above notifications coming through at night

I’d say if you are in a school taking lessons, you shouldn’t be checking your alerts outside of emergency situations.

In meetings, I avoid taking notes on my phone as it looks like I am sat texting.

My Watch gets a few notifications, but I am reducing them as when I get an alert I check, and have noticed a couple of people apologising for taking my time up (it looks like I am passive aggressively checking my watch).

So. If you’re talking to someone, don’t check your devices unless it’s urgent. Always apologise for doing so.

I have far too many colleagues who sit behind a laptop in meetings or on their phone. They look like they’re not listening, and even with the best of intentions they can get easily distracted.

Last point from me. I really want to type notes in meetings, but am trying to find the balance between attentive typing and handwriting. My notes are far easier to refer to when typed, but I am more alert when writing. I am still trying to find the right balance on this one!

I forgot just how distracting my phone can be and at whim I am with stuff. I’d imagine for me using DND would be good for when at work and getting important work done. I need to now train myself to not compulsively swipe down out of boredom as is a habit.

Update: I tried using DND at work. I felt a lot more present in working with my student and far more attentive. I find myself getting anxious at times if I get a tap on my wrist. I am reminded as well to prune my Apple Watch notifications to only what’s necessary. It’s strange training my brain to not compulsively check my phone and resist the urge of phantom vibrations mentally. That said it’s a good thing and a good practice to train myself to not pick up my phone tons of times.

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