“Could this have been an email?”

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

Here’s a quick plea to folks who work in a “knowledge-work” industry or even just in an office environment: Recognize and try to minimize the time-cost of Zoom chats, in-person meetings, and phone calls.

Obviously I’m not the first to talk about this; I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve read from productivity and systems analyst types who address this idea. But I was reminded last week of how gallingly frustrating it is to be on the short-end of this situation.

In my line of work, I edit documents to meet certain specs and then send them back to “clients” to get feedback before finalization. Usually it’s pretty straightforward. Tracked-changes, in-line comments, easy. I was trying to finalize a project that needed to be expedited, and I sent the document to the client team, expecting a quick turnaround. When I didn’t hear from them for a couple of hours, I followed up by email and was told, “Oh, didn’t such-and-such reach out yet? She said she was going to call you. She said that it would probably be quicker than an email.

Somehow, I doubted that.

Her colleague assured me she’d call me back directly, so I sat for a few minutes with the document open on my desktop, waiting for her to call. I knew that as soon as I started something else, I’d have to stop and change gears to deal with this. After 5 minutes, I sighed and opened a different document to pick up working on another task, only to hear my phone ring 30 seconds later.

Now that she had me on the line, my contact then proceeded to open up the document I had sent the day before and read over it, line by line, making occasional comments–including a five-minute excursis in which she realized she was confusing this document with another project and had to check her email to confirm she was thinking of the right one. As I sat on the line with her.

Just to be clear: there were maybe 10 questions in this document to answer, most of which required a YES/NO response.

It took us 15 minutes to work through the short document so I could get the information I needed from her. Information that she could have typed up in-line in the document and emailed to me, adding little to no additional time on her end but possibly saving me about 10 minutes on mine.

That doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize that 5 or 6 such events burn an hour of work time.

I know I’ve done things like this in the past, so I’m trying to be mindful not to do this myself because I don’t want to be the guy whose name gets muttered through gritted teeth. No one wants to be that guy.

So here’s my plea, on behalf of the people you work with or interact with professionally: If that phone call or Zoom meeting or in-person meeting (if you are so blessed) is merely an information check-in that can be summarized by a 3-paragraph email or a notated document providing feedback, just send that to them and give those people back their time.

(Of course, then there’s the whole discussion about whether or not email itself is all that it’s cracked up to be, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)

Do you have any “quick phone call / meeting” horror stories? Leave them in the comments!

4 thoughts on ““Could this have been an email?”

  1. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ALL DAY EVERY DAY BRO. It’s like there’s a Murphy’s Law to this stuff.

    If I send an email, I’m told I should have picked up the phone. If I pick up the phone, I’m told I should have called a meeting with all participants. If I call a meeting, I’m told this coulda been an email. If I sent too long of an email, ain’t nobody gots time for that. If it is too short of an email, someone was offended.

    This has been my life since 1998 when I entered the ‘workforce,’ and the only thing that has changed is an increase in how little I care what people say now in regard to these things!

    1. Oh yeah, this sounds familiar. Seems like some folks just want to complain about how you do things instead of actually responding to what you’re doing and contributing something. Perhaps the best way is just to do the best thing you can for your peers, whether they appreciate it or not!

  2. But if I call you then we share responsibility for decisions I should have made on my own. This gives me deniability, in a world of risk avoidance this is crucial.

    1. Absolutely true. And I think this really says a lot about office culture, in which we are conditioned to minimize personal risk and exposure instead of encouraged to take more initiative even if the decisions may not be perfect. Great point!

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