Email, Call, Telecon, or F2F?

I know people who love to call and attend meetings. I am not one of those people. I also know people who will go to nearly any length to avoid a meeting–okay, I’m not that bad, but I’ve had my moments. And there are times when it’s better to walk down the hall and have a conversation rather than lean too heavily on technology. As a former manager of the Ares Projects once said, “Emailing isn’t communicating.” Still, it’s a question that’s worth asking: when can something be handled by a simple email or a phone call, and when do you need to have a multi-party teleconference or face-to-face meeting?

Email or Quick Phone Call
If you can answer yes to most or all of the following questions, you’re probably safe with an email or a phone call:

  • Is it a quick question?
  • Is it a question of fact?
  • Is it not an emergency?
  • Do you just need a document sent?
  • Is the content something that could be addressed by you and one or two other people?
  • Is there little to no controversy attached to the subject?

Cubicle/Office Visit
If you can say yes to most or all of the following, an in-person visit is worth considering:

  • Is it something that will require more than a few minutes to discuss?
  • Is there controversy attached to the subject?
  • Is it something that can be addressed by one to three people?
  • Is it something you would rather not share in the cube farm?
  • Is it something you would rather not commit to email?
  • Is it something that’s easier to convey in person, either because the other person needs to see something or because it’s more easily conveyed verbally and visually?
  • Does the subject include emotional content?
  • Do you need an answer soon/immediately?

Telecon
There are times when a speaker phone and a meeting room will handle a situation, though the solution is not always optimal. If you were to answer yes to the following questions, you might want to give the telecon a shot:

  • Is it something that will require more than a few minutes to discuss?
  • Is there controversy attached to the subject?
  • Is it something that needs to be addressed by four or more people?
  • Is it something you would rather not share in the cube farm?
  • Is it something you would rather not commit to email?
  • Is it something that’s easier to convey in person, either because the other person needs to see something or because it’s more easily conveyed verbally?
  • Does the subject include emotional content?
  • Do you need an answer soon/immediately?
  • Is the individual (or individuals) not immediately available in person?
  • Are travel funds tight?

Note on the last bullet: shortness of travel funds is not always a useful excuse for avoiding a decision, a “crucial conversation,” or a confrontation. Note that peace negotiations and treaty signings are not handled remotely.

Face-to-Face Meeting/Video Teleconference
When do you need a face-to-face meeting? If you can answer yes to the following:

  • Is it something that will require more than a few minutes to discuss?
  • Is there controversy attached to the subject?
  • Is it something that needs to be addressed by four or more people?
  • Is it something you would rather not share in the cube farm?
  • Is it something you would rather not commit to email?
  • Is it something that’s easier to convey in person, either because the other person needs to see something or because it’s more easily conveyed verbally?
  • Does the subject include emotional content?
  • Do you need an answer soon/immediately?
  • Do all of the individuals “in the loop” need to be physically present?
  • If sharing information, does everyone need to know the information at the same time?

These are my personal guidelines, I hasten to add, though they’re based on my observations of corporate behavior in a variety of environments (Disney, Department of Defense, NASA). Situations can change, and sometimes a memo will cover it. But most communications professionals will tell you that face-to-face communications are better than electronic, and voice preferable to text.

Human beings are very dependent upon facial expressions, body language, gestures, tone of voice, and other nonverbal clues to determine how well our messages are being received. Just as you wouldn’t propose to your significant other via text message, so also you probably wouldn’t announce your resignation that way. Okay, some people do, but that’s not the most effective way to handle things. If communications were easy, a lot of folks would be out of a job.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in meetings, Office Politics, personal, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

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