Sometimes UPDATE columns pretty much write themselves, but other times it takes a lot of effort to find a (hopefully interesting) topic. This week, as I was casting about for a fresh topic, I happened across thispress release from Intermedia, a company that provides hosted Microsoft Exchange Server services, covering a survey about business communications that Intermedia administered to nearly 2,400 participants.

The findings of the survey are interesting in and of themselves. For example, 81 percent of the survey participants said it's inappropriate to take part in a conference call in a public place such as a coffee shop (and 98 percent of respondents over age 55 said so!). However, the topic got me to thinking about communications etiquette and how it's changed over the years. With that in mind, I want to suggest a few etiquette guidelines for unified communications. Some of them are obvious but they should still be useful—if for no other reason than you can forward a copy to people you know who aren't following them.

Herewith, a few etiquette rules that will, I hope, help you stay happy and productive while using unified communications tools:
  • Use out-of-office messages. They let your co-workers know when you're not available. The MailTips feature in Microsoft Outlook 2010 and OWA 2010, and the Communicator and Lync clients, can take advantage of them to help people who are trying to contact you get the latest information on your availability.
  • Write meaningful subject lines for your email messages. Your readers will thank you, if not explicitly then by paying more careful attention to your messages.
  • Use presence honestly. Don't set your presence to permanently be Busy, Away, or Available because doing so robs the presence data of its utility. It takes only a couple of people whose presence doesn't reflect reality before mis-presencing starts to spread like mold.
  • Be respectful of others' presence setting; if they're on the phone, busy, or in Do Not Disturb mode, take that into account when deciding how and when to contact them. Remember that presence is supposed to indicate both your availability and willingness to communicate with someone at a particular time.
  • I can't believe it's still necessary to say this in 2011, but: Don't put anything in email that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the New York Times. Archiving, journaling, and forwarding are just three of the many ways that a message can escape the confines of the To line and spread out into the wider world. And remember that instant messages can be journaled and archived too.
And one more, though it doesn't have anything to do with email per se: If you're in the bathroom, don't talk on the phone. Don't take calls; don't make calls. It doesn't matter how good your noise-blocking Bluetooth headset is. Just don't do it. No one in the bathroom wants to hear your conversations, and I guarantee that the people on the other end of your call would really much rather not know that you're in the bathroom while you're talking to them.

What are your suggestions for communications etiquette? I'd love to hear them. As much as I love Emily Post and Miss Manners, I think they've got some catching up to do.