Voicemail is a tough cookie to crack. Some people love it, but as short text messages have overtaken quick communication on phones (SMS) and the internet (e.g. Twitter), voicemail has fallen out of favour with many.
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Sometimes using voicemail to communicate with coworkers is necessary, but for many people listening to voicemail and returning messages is time consuming and rather inefficient use of time. If you don’t leave effective voicemails, they may never be heard.
“Call Me Back When You Get This”
The easiest way to get people to ignore any future voicemail from you is to leave messages with no purpose. When you leave a voicemail simply telling someone to call you back, unless it’s an emergency and you say so in the message, you have just guaranteed that your message isn’t a top priority for the recipient. If you are calling someone to relay important, timely information, it’s important to let the recipient know why you were calling or what you were calling about. Many people will reply to these messages by email or IM, but a lot of people will not return the call. If your message does not dictate the why returning the call is necessary, you should not expect a return call.
Responding to Email by Leaving a Voicemail Message
Unless you’ve got a good reason to do otherwise, it’s normally best to reply to a message in kind — which is to say, if you send me an email, I should probably reply in an email rather than calling you up and leaving a voicemail. (Naturally there are exceptions, but if only for the purpose of helping maintain your sanity and keeping communication regarding a topic in a single, searchable place, it’s generally a good practice to reply in kind.) If you absolutely must respond to an email by leaving a voicemail message, make it more effective by taking the time to explain why you are replying via phone.
Keep It Brief
Leaving a voicemail that goes on for several minutes is simply not effective. If the subject for your call is that detailed, or if you needed to leave that much information, an email or face-to-face conversation may be more appropriate. Chances are that the recipient did not listen to the entirety of your message, and you will repeat most of the information when you do get to talk to them. Short, direct messages with a clear purpose or directions are always best.
The short version: When you call up a coworker and get their voicemail, make sure that you are prepared to leave an effective message, and make sure that a voicemail message is the appropriate way to contact your coworker. Succinct, purposeful communication, regardless of the medium, is effective and keeps everyone productive.