A few years back, I left a voicemail for a colleague at work. I waited for a response to my question, but after more than a day, I heard nothing back. Then, I ran into her into the hallway and took the opportunity to ask her my question directly.
But when I referred back to my message, she said, “voicemail?”
She stared at me… confused for just a moment. Then, she smiled slightly.
“Oh… I don’t listen to voicemails. Please, just email me.”
I tried to process this moment to understand if this was just one person’s preferred workflow or something else. I decided it must have been an example of a unique relationship with voicemail.
But I think I was wrong…
The Demise of Voicemail
Certainly, in any number of circumstances, some people have to use voicemail as part of their work communication. But if there’s a choice in the matter, I think my little story is an example of a growing shift in the workplace.
Even though I believe it’s easy to quickly leave a voicemail vs typing up the same detail in an email, it’s actually slower for someone to have to wait around and listen to your voice rambling through the few sentences on the other end.
Voicemail is relatively inefficient and lags behind newer technologies that enable faster communication.
(For that very reason, John Brandon from Inc. has declared that “Voicemail is Now Officially Dead.”)
I guess this is today’s reality, even though tech innovations have supercharged the voicemail proposition as some platforms can send your desktop voicemail through to your email as an attached audio file.
Desktop Phones are Gathering Dust
As I consider all of this, I think about my own work experience of late…
I definitely receive fewer voicemails than I used to. And those that I do get are primarily from people outside of my company.
Most everyone else on the inside emails me or uses the instant-messaging platform to reach out.
This trend is not only about employees shunning voicemail. I think it has to do with people also not choosing to use the phone at their desk.
The Rise of the Conference Call
This is not to say that employees don’t talk to each other anymore. Far from it! Conference calls are alive and well…
So are web-based conference calls where you can activate your webcam and visually participate in the conversation as well. Although I must admit I do choose which conference calls get my ‘video’ participation.
(I don’t have to tell you that opening up your live feed to a full video signal requires that you appear relatively attentive.)
But for me, the decision to activate my webcam is more than just deciding whether I want to multitask or not. It also has to do with what type of image I’m projecting to the other participants.
This probably comes from my background in video production and what has become a now instinctual need to present a ‘good image.’
Should Employees Care How They Look on Your Computer Screen?
And I’m not talking about looking good, which is certainly important and why some folks might choose to shy away in the moment from a particular video chat. I’m talking about the shot looking good…
- Is my shot framed properly to ensure I’m front and center and not a speck in the left corner?
- Is the lighting soft and hitting me from the front?
- Is there a window behind me that destroys my shot by overwhelming it with light?
- Is the angle of the shot level to ensure that the webcam is not looking up my nostrils?
That’s a lot to consider and certainly not what the average person normally takes the time to think about.
In fact, I’ve observed that when people get over the hump of displaying their image to the rest of a conference-call population, some tend to forget about it entirely.
And then I’ve found myself watching people who are seemingly oblivious to the fact that they can be seen. I want to blurt out, “Don’t you know that people are watching you even though you’re not speaking?!”
(Maybe I should text them.)
It’s so interesting to observe public norms shifting to finally embrace and then quickly ignore the once revolutionary promise of the 1960’s video phone.
The Downside to Efficiency
Who’s got the time, right?
Sure, we’ve all got to attend work meetings, in person or virtually.
But beyond that, all bets are off.
People aren’t calling each other. They’re not leaving voicemails anymore. Heck, I see so many instances where colleagues aren’t getting up from their cubes to talk to each other anymore. They’re emailing each other… when they’re sitting fifteen feet apart.
I suppose that is more efficient at one level.
But what are we losing in the process?
Connect to the Conversation
I would say the most important contribution that you make to your workplace is how you support the culture.
- How do you show up?
- How do interact with your colleagues?
- How positive a force do you project through your voice?
- What do the expressions on your face say?
Sure, I understand that many of you can avoid all of this and get the job done faster with just your keyboard.
But if you don’t take the time to offer others the clues to your own humanity, how can you ever expect to be truly recognized for who you are and what you offer at work?
Without contributing to these public-facing elements, it’s much harder to build your personal brand.
Never forget the human factor.
Voicemail may be one tool that technology has effectively replaced. But there are plenty of other ways to truly connect to the ongoing conversation.