3 Etiquette Rules for Work Calls While Driving

Working from the road, including taking phone calls, may be inevitable. But there are some etiquette problems you should try to avoid.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #396

Let me first say that I am by no means advocating people working or “multitasking” while driving. I don’t believe in texting while you drive and I also don't believe anyone who feels they have “total control” on the road when not 100% focused on driving.  However, for this episode, I do believe we can have a proper discussion about taking a phone call for work while driving. After all, if your eyes are forward while you’re talking, it’s the same as simply singing along with the radio.

And with that, your lips should be the ONLY thing that’s moving while taking a call in the car. As well, you should only do so with the help of a hands-free, Bluetooth system built into a car. So if you have a car that allows you to keep your eyes on the road, then you may need these three tips for on-the-road conference call etiquette:

Tip #1: It’s Your Car, Not Your Office

As someone who travels about 3-400 miles a week back and forth for meetings, I practically live in my car. Just last week, I left my house in Baltimore, Maryland at 5:30 a.m. to beat traffic for an 8:30 a.m. breakfast meeting in Northern Virginia. After that, I drove to a suburb of D.C. for a lunch meeting, then back home. That was about 8+ hours of driving alone, in and out of traffic. Needless to say, I didn’t get much “work” done at my desk. However, despite not being in the office that day, my car actually became my office. I took calls, sent emails (when parked of course), and basically ran my daily tasks on four wheels. Yet, despite taking calls on in my car, via a wireless Bluetooth system, I had to be very cognizant of properly address people on the phone, letting them know that I was in my car, and unable to do anything other than talk. That means not saying, “Wait one second, while I find that paper…” or “I have my notes right here, let me find them…” See, for starters it tells people that you’re a moron for driving while reading work notes at the same time.  And secondly, it makes you appear to be distracted by your scatter-brained attempt to do two things at the same time.

I make sure to tell people off the bat that I’m driving. Sure they can tell by the background noise and figure it out on their own, but it’s proper to state any possible interference upfront. Like being sick for example, “Sorry, if I sound a little nasally; I’m getting over a cold.” Be it a cold or background noise, state the issue and the other person will be more understanding. Letting them know you’re not at your desk upfront levels expectations. “Sorry, I’m in my car right now so I can talk but that’s about all. I can review the documents when I get home or parked.” If you don’t make it known that you are unable to read documents or grab anything else, it will only make you frustrated trying to do so. Trust me, if you’re driving with one hand, and searching for papers with another (which is insanely dangerous), you’re bound to get frustrated. And that frustration will be heard over the call. 

Tip #2: The Code of Carpooling

On occasion I have a colleague in the car with me, when I’m driving for work meetings. As you expect, with an extra rider, your usual “office-for-one” is a bit more cramped. With that, you may have to compete with someone else’s daily activities, which includes taking calls of their own. However, unlike a standard office where you can duck away from noise to your own little corner, space is of course limited in a moving vehicle. Take Clint and Will, two lawyers from Portland who often travel together in Will’s sedan for hours at at time. Needless to say, two busy lawyers sharing a car as an office for the day requires a lot of timesharing as well as mutual understanding. So, understanding that they both are on the “same team” with mutual goals for getting important work done, they take a note out of a toddler’s book and share. Yes, Mannerly Nation sharing is still alive and well … even in the life of lawyers.