Younger Workers Don’t Use Phone
Managers want their employees to get off email and pick up the phone.
WSJ (“Bosses Say ‘Pick Up the Phone’“):
Patty Baxter realized there was a problem. In her 20 years at Metro Guide Publishing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the office usually hummed with sales calls. Now, it was quiet.
Advertising sales were down and Ms. Baxter identified a reason: Her sales staff, all under age 35, were emailing clients with their pitches, not calling them on the phone.
Younger workers may have mastered technologies that some of their older colleagues have barely heard of, such as photo and video sharing apps Instagram and Vine, but some bosses wish they’d learn a more traditional skill: picking up the phone.
Although I’m considerably north of 35—and use neither Instagram nor Vine—I immediately guessed the reason.
While Millennials—usually defined as people born between 1981 and the early 2000s—are rarely far from their smartphones, they grew up with a wider array of communication tools, such as texting and online chatting, and have different expectations for how and when they’d like to be reached. In the workplace, some managers say avoiding the phone in favor of email can hurt business, hinder creativity and delay projects.
Stephanie Shih, 27, says phone calls are an interruption. The brand marketing manager at Paperless Post, a New York-based company that designs online and paper stationery, doesn’t have a work phone. Nor do the majority of her co-workers. The company says that not having individual phone lines in open-plan areas protects people from unwanted calls, which can interrupt conversations.
Besides, says Ms. Shih, phones seem “outdated.” She takes scheduled work calls once or twice a week. “Even my dentist’s office texts me because they know phone calls can be burdensome,” she wrote in an email.
Kevin Castle, a 32-year-old chief technology officer at Technossus, an Irvine, Calif.-based business software company, says unplanned calls are such an annoyance that he usually unplugs his desk phone and stashes it in a cabinet. Calling someone without emailing first can make it seem as though you’re prioritizing your needs over theirs, Mr. Castle says. Technossus’s staff relies mainly on email to communicate, which helps bridge the time difference between the company’s offices in the U.S. and India, he says. He uses Microsoft Lync for instant messaging and video conferencing. Phone calls are his last resort.
My strong preference is to conduct business via email for exactly the same reason: getting an unexpected phone call interrupts my thinking and writing. Indeed, I consider being cold called by someone I don’t know quite rude and tend to act accordingly. Email is much less intrusive, allowing people to communicate when it’s convenient.
That said, people can be too passive with email. If the matter is under deadline, simply firing off one email and letting the matter go until receiving a response is unacceptable. Emails get buried in the inbox. People get the email on their phone, intend to respond in detail once at a workstation, and then forget. Follow-up is essential.
Even there, I tend to use the telephone relatively rarely. If I have business with a co-worker that can’t wait, I just walk over and talk to them. I find it rather odd when someone who sits 100 feet away calls me rather than just knocking on the door.
There are some lines of work, however, that don’t fit well with this ethic:
But email won’t cut it in professions like sales, where personal rapport matters, says Ms. Baxter, age 49. “You’re not selling if you’re just asking a question and getting an answer back,” she says.
Earlier this month, a member of her sales team misunderstood an email from a client and anticipated a sale that didn’t happen—a mistake Mr. Baxter says could have been avoided had the employee called the client to begin with.
Since May, she’s had Mary Jane Copps, a phone-use consultant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, spend two days a week at the office helping nudge her staff onto the phone. Now, employees keep track of how they contact clients and follow a script when leaving voice mail.
Ms. Copps’s training includes role playing that simulates sales calls to help with what she calls “phone phobia.” “For many people, it’s a lack of confidence that they’ll be able to say the right words in the right order in the right amount of time,” she says.
Ms. Copps, 55, whose website is thephonelady.com, charges $1,800 for a full-day workshop. She began working as a phone consultant in 2003 at the encouragement of a friend. She was skeptical at first as she thought phone skills were just common sense.
Those in the sales business, especially those who do cold pitches to potential customers, are going to get even more unpopular over time. The new ethic of expecting asynchronous communication with anyone but one’s most intimate acquaintances will only grow over time. And people leave voicemails at their peril; most people, especially young people, ignore them.
Jason Nazar, a 34-year-old Santa Monica, Calif.-based technology entrepreneur, says his company has missed out on potential hires because his 20-something employees schedule interviews by email, rather than phoning applicants, which can take longer. “If you can do something more quickly and more efficiently by using older technology, then do it,” said Mr. Nazar, who is chief executive of Docstoc, a service that helps small businesses manage documents online.
Has anyone ever gotten annoyed to receive a phone call offering them a job interview? Granted, there may be times when taking that call are awkward. But, otherwise, that’s a pretty clear case where reaching out by phone seems like an obvious move.