Frontline Initiative DSPs and Technology

Technology etiquette:
Think before you speak, email, Tweet, post, text, blog


Susan O’Nell has 17 years experience in services to people with developmental disabilities as a DSP and in other roles. She has worked at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota since 1995.

Today’s world provides more ways to communicate than ever. But it also provides us more ways to be distracted and misunderstood. In this brave new world, technology and communication gaps between workers and with employers can lead to mixed signals, inefficiencies, and conflict. Unfortunately, the rules of this new world haven’t been sorted out yet. And new changes keep coming. 

Use the right technology for the job 

It’s important to keep current in technology. You don’t have to be on the leading edge of every technological advancement. However, people today no longer use smoke signals, stone tablets, and the Pony Express. Regardless of your age or background, staying current in communication technology is part of staying viable in the work world. Take a class, insist your employer help you, have your neighbor or grand kids show you, but get it done.  

From the range of ways in which you can communicate, consider what is best for the job. Each format has strengths and weakness. Texts are quick, discreet and good for sharing a small bit of information. A face-to-face meeting may be needed if dialogue and non-verbal communication are critical. Tweets, blogs, and fan pages may help connect employees to each other or the company. Email memos can be tracked more easily than paper. Help your employer know which formats are the most efficient and effective in communicating with you.  

Keep boundaries between work and private life

With new ways of communicating, boundaries are blurring. Keeping work and personal life separate can prevent communication overload and reduce mishaps. Consider the following — 

  • Define for yourself (within employer policies) when and how you communicate about work when home and about home when at work. Make your boundaries clear.

  • If people from work are on your social networking sites everything you post has to be “work appropriate.” Would you share it at a staff meeting? If not, don’t share it here.

  • Don’t keep information regarding people supported on your personal computer unless you have employer approval and can meet HIPAA standards. 

  • Don’t use a work computer for personal business or Web-surfing unless you have approval. If you have approval remember the following —

    • These activities are not private. Your passwords, emails, Web histories, etc. may all be available to your employer.

    • Never visit questionable Web sites (religious/political, gaming, or “adult entertainment”).

    • Never download anything onto a work computer that isn’t specifically for work and preapproved. (You may introduce viruses.) 

    • Never leave a work computer in a parked car or unsupervised in a public place (library, etc).

Know when to turn it off (or at least put it on silent)

We’ve gotten used to constant connection. However, there are times when people deserve our undivided attention. Consider the space, privacy and feelings of the person you are physically with at the time. Excuse yourself to take a call or return a text. 

Recognize there is no privacy in the electronic world 

Modern communication can feel very anonymous. However, very little of it actually is. In fact it’s more difficult to have a private life than ever. Blogging, texting, email, and social networking sites are only semi-private in the best of cases. Once you’ve “published” a photo, a comment or other media, you no longer have control. Even if it’s on your personal time, your behavior may become “public” and affect your work life. 

You want to make sure you don’t cross a legal or ethical line or face questions about your behavior. Some things in particular you will want to avoid are comments about people supported or their habits and lives. You also will want to avoid negative comments about your profession, co-workers or your employer. Even if you are posting in ways you think is private or no names are shared, it is not OK. Being a professional doesn’t stop when we leave work.