When I was a kid, many kids spent hours talking on the phone. Now, kids the same age spend hours on their phones too. But more likely, they are texting rather than talking. When I first joined the workforce, I spent lots of time on the phone. Now, I have more communication options than ever, and the phone seems to have its niche. In fact, “using the phone” doesn’t even mean talking to people any more. It’s time to reconsider our remote communication and recognize that the phone is the forgotten tool for remote work communications.
Lost in a Land of Remote Communication Options
While we can’t walk down the hall to chat, or discuss the project update in the break room, we have a tremendous number of options for remote communication at our fingertips and on our devices. Some improve our ability to collaborate across time and space, some allow us to communicate in nearly real-time (though they might lead us to overload and crippling multitasking). Whichever brand of these tools you use, you likely have more options than ever, and ironically, most have an app for you to use on your phone.
Plaudits for the Phone
Interestingly enough, when I ask people what tools they use for communication as remote teammates, the phone is often an afterthought, and it is rarely one of the first mentioned. Yet, when we consider the frustration caused by so many of the other tools, I often wonder why. Let’s explore the power and possibilities of a phone call.
- It allows for interaction. Of course, you can have a phone call that is as impersonal and to the point, but chances of a true interaction – a moment of personal conversation, or even some laughter, goes way up when you hear another voice. And who doesn’t need a bit more interaction as a remote teammate?
- It is fast. Sometimes not as fast as an email or instant message, but you don’t have type either.
- It is ubiquitous. You don’t have to worry about platform, bandwidth of app availability. The person you need to communicate with has a phone, and chances are, you have their number.
- It is easy. Dial some numbers, or more likely search for someone’s name. It is easier than ever to call someone.
- It can reduce miscommunication. No communication channel is perfect because imperfect humans are using them. But if you have ever solved a miscommunication caused in text-based communication with a phone call, you know what I mean.
- It is a richer form of communication. With a phone call you get more than the words people are saying. The phone gives you the vocal cues, pauses, and more than make our communication richer and more effective. Granted, it isn’t the same as being across the table from someone, but it is richer than all of the other remote communications options that don’t involve a webcam.
Hmm, if a new remote communication platform had all these features, it would be a pretty easy sell, wouldn’t it?
When the Phone is the Good Option
I am not saying we should throw out our other remote communication options and return to the phone entirely. Rather, I am suggesting we consciously add the phone back into the mix of options we consider. When should the phone move to top of your option list?
- When you are tired of looking at your monitor. Zoom fatigue is real, and a little variety is a good thing. While we don’t get the facial expressions and other visual clues that our webcams provide, we can still have a richer communication. Consider having some conversations without the camera and you both may benefit.
- When someone is away from their computer. Admittedly, this happens less frequently right now, but there are times when a phone call is the only efficient and safe way to have a real-time synchronous conversation.
- When miscommunication or frustration is mounting. Things getting tense in the email thread? Frustration building in the chat? The phone may well solve the miscommunication and lower the anxiety for everyone.
- When you want to nurture a relationship. There is a reason those teens of my youth wanted to be on the phone – they were doing more than gossiping – they were building their relationships. If you are lamenting the lack of or weakening of your relationships, call more and text less.
- When you want to connect. If you are feeling lonely as you work from home, you aren’t alone. A simple five-minute call might help both of you far more than either of you might imagine.
Reinsert the Phone into Remote Communication
The phone isn’t a perfect tool, and certainly there are difficult and ineffective phone calls – but that could be said of every other remote communication option as well. As silly as this may sound, if we want to make the phone a bigger part of our remote communications processes at work, some learning might be in order.
While everyone knows how to make and receive a call, some discussion about when to use the phone as a viable option might be helpful. Perhaps this article could help spur that conversation. The point isn’t to eliminate any other tools, but rather to remind us all how powerful the phone can be as a part of our remote communication toolkit – and to encourage you to use it when it is the best tool you have.
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