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Voicemail Etiquette in the Office: Top 5 Rules

Nowhere is it more clear that technology has transformed the basics of business etiquette than in the realm of communication. I've written before about the many unwritten rules of email decorum, for example, and Biz Hacks readers have debated the pros and cons of text messaging between managers and employees. But what about voicemail? Are there rules around the proper use of it? In fact, is voicemail acceptable at all anymore?

This question occurred to me recently as I dealt with a long, almost five-minute message from a former employee. She no longer works for me but she remains elsewhere at my company.

As many of you know from previous posts, I am currently hiring a new writer for my team, and am actively reviewing candidates and resumes. This former employee left a lengthy voicemail in an effort to refer and endorse a friend for the position. I listened to much of the message on my cell phone while away from my desk, where it wasn't practical for me to take any notes. When I finally returned to my desk, I couldn't bear the thought of wasting another five minutes powering through her long, rambling message to nab the candidate's name, email, and phone. So, after a short mental debate, I just deleted the message.

She could have left a short message with the pertinent details right up front. Even better, she could have simply emailed me, or at the very least followed up the call with a mail that contained the details I cared about. As a result, her friend missed an opportunity to be considered.

I think my reaction was reasonable; in today's fast paced business world, I no longer have time to waste listening to voicemail, teasing out valuable details, and transcribing it onto paper myself. But what do you think? Is there a place for voicemail in the office anymore? If so, what are the rules of the phone that one should follow?

Here are my top five rules:

  • Don't leave voicemail. It's fine to call and try to reach someone at their desk, but if they're not available, skip the voicemail and leave an email, which is easier to scan for important details.
  • Heck, don't even call. If it's an option, first try instant messaging. It's less intrusive, as it can be ignored if the person is busy.
  • If you've decided to ignore my first two rules, keep it short. Voicemail is not the place for long narratives. If your message is more than a minute long, you're doing it wrong.
  • The first words out of your mouth after the beep should be who you are, how you can be reached, and what you need. Once you're done with that, feel free to leave a little more context.
  • Don't leave voicemail.
What do you think about my rules for business voicemail? Sound off in the comments to make your voice heard.

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