I Just Work Here

At the tone, please stop leaving messages

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Voice mail

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

A: Ha! My cordless phone laughs in your face.

I'd argue there are simple rules for exit:

When you find yourself increasingly annoyed by that technology.

•When you find out that what the technology makes convenient for you is a pain in the butt to the friend or colleague you're imposing it on. Neither my wife nor brother listens to my messages; they simply see that I've called and call me back. I now return that favor.

Q: What if older employees or managers aren't as comfortable with electronic communication and prefer leaving voice mails? How does a company get away with bagging its voice mail system? Should it be up to everyone in the company to get comfortable and up to speed with the latest communication technology?

A: My glib answer is this:

When I first entered the workforce, my company would charge me for "personal" and "outside" calls. So we should let people leave as many voice mail messages as they want, but charge them a dollar for each one. Let people put their money where their mouths are, pun intended.

The real reason I want internal employee voice mail unplugged is that it's less efficient, effective, auditable and productive.

Q: Say we do away with voice mail in favor of emails or texts. Does face-to-face communication remain important? Or are we creeping toward predominantly virtual work relationships?

A: I am a huge believer in face-to-face communication and phone conversations themselves. I love the dynamism and interaction of human communication. But voice mail is inherently asynchronous.

It is the antithesis of live or dynamic. It should join the choir invisible.

Q: What would you consider the primary advantage of doing away with voice mail?

A: More time, less obligation, less concern about whether someone listened to our message, less anger that the bozo from accounting left us a three-minute message detailing how he wants us to re-document our expense form, etc.

Q: While companies can outlaw internal voice mail, I assume we'll have to continue accepting voice mails from clients/customers/the public until the rest of the world gets up to speed, correct? Or is it OK to have an outgoing phone message that says, "I don't take voice mails, so if you need to get a message to me you can email or send a text."

A: Clients and customers are what matter. I think it's better and healthier for an organization to say to itself: If it's from a customer, it's important, so they get to leave messages and get the immediate callbacks.

• • •

So think about it, companies. Perhaps it's time to do away with internal voice mail systems.

If you have any other questions, email me. I'll be under the covers, watching online videos of pneumatic tubes.

TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at ijustworkhere@tribune.com, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere, and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.

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