In today’s new order of business, organizations are scrambling to create virtual conference rooms, work-messaging apps, and other 21st-century tools to make working outside the office effective. But there’s one downright archaic way of doing business that’s making a comeback in the outbreak era: picking up the phone and calling someone.
Indeed, experts say conducting business this way requires a communications skill that email and texting pros may have lost—or never developed. That, of course, may particularly apply to millennials and Generation Xers. One survey found that 75% of them found incoming calls to be “too time-consuming.”
Experts say all the rules of being a good coworker, including keeping your ego in check and being receptive to feedback, still apply. We canvassed some career coaches to find the wrinkles of using the phone.
Beware of background noise.
The non-office work environment—whether it’s the local coffee shop or your kitchen table—is going to come with a new set of sounds that can disrupt the flow of a call. Get ahead by alerting others to your sound challenges, and mute yourself as much as you can. “Because people take calls from lots of different places now, it’s a common courtesy to either mute when you’re not talking or let people know ahead of time where you’ll be so they can understand the context,” says Kristi Hedges, founder of the Hedges Company in Arlington, Virginia. Also, mind your speakerphone use: to you it may sound quiet, but the person on the other end of the line probably can hear the laundry tumbling in the background. Finally, make sure to test your headphones or earbuds. While convenient, they can sometimes make you sound distant and pick up extra background noise.
Listen to your own voice.
The way we sound in person is often different from how we sound on the phone, in part because cell phones don’t always reproduce a voice’s full range. There’s also the fact that most people hate the sound of their own voice because we hear ourselves differently than outsiders, thanks to vocal vibrations in our heads that other people don’t hear. Of course, you can work on sounding more professional by recording yourself and playing it back, to scrutinize whether your nervous giggle or habit of saying “yeah” too often needs some editing.
Know the level of urgency.
One of the best ways to avoid a smartphone faux pas is to set ground rules up front of what’s urgent and what isn’t. “If there is no expectation, then the assumption is ASAP,” Hedges says. If you don’t want to make people feel that way, tell them it isn’t urgent, or establish levels of importance; maybe an email can be answered in due course, but a text message means it’s urgent. “Oftentimes, people don’t expect an immediate reply,” Hedges says. “It’s just that they’re sending you something when they are thinking about it.”
Back yourself up.
Once you’ve decided how to respond to a call, text, or email, it’s a good idea to back up your action. If you called your boss back but didn’t leave a voice message, you can also email saying you tried to connect. Or you could send a text to say you saw that you missed the call but was in the middle of another one. That way your boss knows you’re paying attention, and if you’re called out for not answering the phone, you can defend yourself by showing your written attempt to get in touch.
Keep your phone clean.
Yes, you can contract the coronavirus from your phone. The virus can live on glass surfaces (such as your mobile phone) for up to 96 hours and plastic (like a normal phone) for 72 hours, according to the World Health Organization. Experts say to clean the phone surface—a face wipe or baby wipe will do—especially if you share your phone with someone else.