I Just Work Here

At the tone, please stop leaving messages

Why companies should seriously consider doing away with internal voice messages

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Voice mail

Voice mail (Eric Delmar, E+/via Getty Images / October 4, 2013)

This is the process I go through when I receive a voice mail:

1. Sigh.

2. Consider ignoring it.

3. Become overwhelmed by guilt.

4. Press "voice mail" button.

5. Forget password.

6. Try again.

7. Listen to voice mail.

8. Sigh, louder.

9. Promise to never check voice mail again.

That takes about five minutes. It would have taken seven seconds to look at an email or text message.

Call me a disciple of the digital age, but I no longer have the time or patience for voice mail. It has become an archaic means of delivering workplace messages and should go the way of the pneumatic tube. (Actually, I'd be in favor of bringing back pneumatic tubes, which are at least fun to watch.)

I'm not alone, of course. Last year, USA Today had Internet phone company Vonage put together data that showed that in just one year, the number of retrieved voice mails had fallen 14 percent.

To explore this subject, I reached out to Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School's Center for Digital Business and author of the book "Serious Play." Schrage recently wrote a blog post for the Harvard Business Review expressing his distaste for voice mail.

Schrage was overseas and suggested that — in the spirit of the anti-voice mail movement — we conduct the interview via email. I thought that was a great idea, as it allowed me to stay in bed with the covers over my head, generally my preferred work environment.

Here are my questions and his responses, which I edited slightly and then sent back to him for approval:

Q: What made you hate voice mails so much?

A: I'm not a hater. Once upon a time, voice mail (and voice messaging machines) were terrific for communicating and coordinating with friends and colleagues.

I have the same emotional attachment to voice mail that I do to fax machines and carbon paper; they were appropriate for their time and place, but we have better, easier and more appealing options now. Please don't make me send faxes or make carbon copies; similarly, don't make me use voice mail.

Q: Aren't we always dealing with some form of fading technology? How do we decide when it's time to cut the cord (phone pun intended)?

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