Where I work, it is frequently mentioned by both co-workers and managers that many people find it rude when staff use cell phones while on duty because it is seen as attending to personal items while on company time. I frequently find myself in situations where I must take notes, file online reports, and consult online records while "in the field" or while in another facility (where I do not have easy access to a desktop or laptop computer). I usually use a smartphone for this purpose but am concerned about how this is seen. Under these circumstances (frequent travel away from a "home base"), carrying a tablet or laptop computer is impractical but not altogether impossible.

How can this be resolved? Would it be better to explain to others around me that I need a few minutes with my phone to check the status of the BQR Pipeline and submit a High-Priority Form 10-E or would it be better to carry and use a tablet or laptop anyway in order to be perceived as someone who is really "working" rather than texting friends and playing games? It is sometimes possible to delay online work until I am alone but sometimes it is not, either because the online work is high priority or because management has imposed a deadline to complete it.

If it is relevant, this is in the USA. I am specifically interested in the interpersonal aspects of this situation as it relates to workplace social skills rather than any specific issue of workplace policy.

The obvious options I see are:

1) Just use the cell phone and don't attempt to explain anything unless I am specifically confronted by co-workers or management (e.g. "So, how many Pokemon did you catch today while you were on the clock?"). The obvious downside to this is that I could be damaging workplace social relationships even while getting all of my work done.

2) Explain to others why I need to use a cell phone.

3) Get a tablet or laptop and carry it around under the understanding that the benefits of being seen as working hard outweigh the burden of carrying it.

4) Push back on management and attempt to get policies or procedures changed so that I can take notes by hand and access online systems on a less frequent basis (e.g. at the end of the day).

  • 1
    When those managers say that, did you or anyone else point out how critical to timeliness and work the device is? Are these all old people who hate technology?
    – Passerby
    Jul 24, 2017 at 14:38
  • @Passerby it is not clear. In any event, I am interested in the general acceptability of picking this as a particular battle to fight ("Look! Not a game! I'm filing reports on our Tracking Portal and updating our Workflow Diagram!") as opposed to simply not questioning management and picking up an iPad and nice-looking bag and then carrying that around in the hot sun all day. Jul 24, 2017 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


If you are with other people when you choose to do something on your phone, simply excuse yourself to them:

Since we have a few moments here, I think I'll update the case notes on this situation


I have a few emails from head office to deal with if you don't mind

If what you are doing is more urgent, you can still telegraph it as you do it:

I'd better get a form submitted on this one!


Let me check the status on this again, if it hasn't moved I may have to call X about it.

If you start using your phone when you're alone, and a coworker comes into your vicinity, you can let them know what you're doing:

Good morning! I'll be right with you after I finish updating some case notes.

All these things would be polite and normal if you were turning your back to someone to work at a computer, so no-one will think you're odd for doing them. But they have the advantage when you're using a phone of also meaning:

Dude, I'm not playing Candy Crush I'm totally working so don't be thinking I'm not!

And of course, you had better not ever play anything or text a friend or whatnot when claiming to be using the phone for work :-)

  • 3
    I have done things along these lines in meetings when I forgot my notebook and it really works! The more people see you using your phone for a work purpose the more cred you build up (if it's the same people). Elsewise, you get more practise.
    – Emery
    Jan 5, 2018 at 16:07

Where I work we've been informed multiple times to not be seen messing with cell phones, and we are not to connect any personal devices to the networks here at work. Here's what I've done, and it seems to have worked fairly well.

  1. Yes, buy a cheap notepad-sized tablet for taking notes.

For some reason, tablets look "businesslike", while phones do not. I've had multiple people tell me this when they saw me using mine. In fact, it can go a bit too far. Sometimes people who don't know me see me walk into the breakroom with mine and start trying to act busy. (!)

Equally importantly, they are way more effective for taking (and finding) notes than a cellphone.

Just to be safe, mine is not connected to the internet in any way while I'm at work. You could probably tether it off your phone though.

I've found tablets are also much better than smaller phones (or TVs) for a lot of purposes around the house too, but that's off-topic here.

  1. Buy a Bluetooth headset, and keep it connected at all times.

If you have to make a phone call, pull the phone out to dial, but put it away thereafter and use the headset to converse and control the call.

Not only does this keep you from looking like you are goofing off on the phone, but it saves your ears on long calls, and frees your hands up for doing things like looking up information the caller needs, or avoiding falling down stairs.

It will also save you from accidentally leaving your phone somewhere and forgetting about it, and help you locate it when you still do. This has saved my keister many a time.

Only real drawback is you often don't look like you are on the phone, so people will walk up to you and try to ask for things, or wonder why this crazy person is talking to nobody, or even think you are talking to them.

You could probably also dispense with the phone for dialing, if you are willing to use voice commands. I'm too old-fashioned to demean myself by talking to a computer, but I understand it works for some people.

  1. (Optional) Buy a smartwatch.

Some are as cheap as $100. This should allow you to see who is calling you, and even check to see if a text or email looks important enough to excuse yourself, directly off the watch. With this and #2 you can also take (or reject) phone calls without ever having to touch the phone. These two also allow you to turn your phone ringer entirely off, without worrying about missing anything important. (I've found cellphone ring tones in crowded offices to be a real menace).

Looking at your watch during a meeting is still a smidge rude ("Am I boring this person?"), but nowhere near as much as digging out a cellphone.

  • 3
    Your breakroom comment reminds me of a guy I used to work with. When he didn't have any work to do he'd just grab some paper and walk around the building, looking like he was going to talk with someone. Oct 20, 2017 at 16:05
  • 2
    @WayneWerner - Good way to get exercise. Bad way to be available to receive more tasks though.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 20, 2017 at 16:08

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