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How to Use Voicemail Effectively at Work

Using voicemail to communicate with coworkers is a necessary evil, but for many people listening to voicemail and returning messages is time consuming and breaks their concentration. Society is increasingly leaning to online communication, so if you do not leave effective messages, they may never be heard.

Voicemail is a technological dinosaur, and the concept has not changed drastically in decades. What a lot of businesses have failed to notice is that younger employees (namely Gen-Y and some younger Gen-X’s) no longer consider it a relevant form of communication. They are used to reading short, direct messages in the form of Tweets, IMs, and text messages. Many young people in the workforce even find email a burden, so imagine how they react to voicemail. If you want younger coworkers to embrace voicemail in the office, you need to leave effective messages with useful information, and use appropriate communication channels.

Do not disturb message.

Photo by dougww.

“When You Get This Message Call Me Back”

The easiest way to get people to ignore your messages is to leave messages with no purpose. When you leave a voicemail simply telling someone to call you back, unless it is an emergency and you say so in the message, you have just guaranteed that your message is not a top priority for the recipient. If you are calling someone to relay important, timely information, it is common courtesy to let the recipient know why you were calling or what you were calling about. Many people will reply to these messages by email or IM, but a lot of people will not return the call. If your message does not dictate the why returning the call is necessary, you should not expect a return call.

Responding to Email by Leaving a Voicemail Message

If someone takes the time to put their thoughts in order and write you an email, chances are they are expecting at least an acknowledgement of their message via email. It is  acceptable to respond to the email by leaving a voicemail if you cannot articulate what you are trying to explain by email, or if the subject matter is sensitive and requires a phone or face-to-face conversation. Leaving voicemail as a response to most of the email you get may give coworkers the wrong message. Some may think that you don’t want to embrace technology, while others may think that you are avoiding accountability. If you absolutely must respond to an email by leaving a voicemail message, make it more effective by taking the time to explain why you are replying via phone.

Voicemail indicator button.

Photo by salimfadhley.

Information Overload

Leaving a voicemail message that goes on for several minutes is not effective. If the subject for your call is that detailed, or if you needed to leave that much information, an email or face-to-face conversation may be more appropriate. Chances are that the recipient did not listen to the entirety of your message, and you will repeat most of the information when you do get to talk to them. Short, direct messages with a clear purpose or directions are always best.

Putting your own communication preferences ahead of the people you are trying to communicate with will undoubtedly result in a communication breakdown. In a multi-generational workplace, you have to remember that people in different age groups communicate differently. When you call up a coworker and get their voicemail, make sure that you are prepared to leave an effective message, and make sure that a voicemail message is the appropriate way to contact your coworker. Succinct, purposeful communication, regardless of the medium, is effective and keeps everyone productive.

  • Published 08/19/10

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