Why You Should Put That in an Email

I know there are a lot of people I don’t have to sell on the benefits of communicating via email instead of a phone call. This post is for those people to send to the people who still want to play phone tag for a week instead of just typing out a short paragraph.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of face-to-face communication. Video chats, walking over to a coworker’s desk… All great solutions for wrapping something up quickly or even just getting to know someone you’re working with.

Where this doesn’t work as well is when people are ships in the night and something just needs to get done. Maybe you work in different timezones, maybe your workloads right now demand extreme time management, maybe one or both of you are contractors with multiple responsibilities for multiple clients.

In those situations, it can be tough to schedule a time to talk. So let’s play a game.

Should I Call or Email?

  • Are you simply passing along information? Email.
  • Do you need to hash out a solution together? Schedule a call or video chat.
  • Do they need to know something as soon as possible? Email. If it’s personal, schedule a call via email with as much information as is tactful.
  • Do you need to hash out a solution but scheduling a call isn’t working out? Email. Yes, this will take longer than a phone call because you’ll have to do some back-and-forth typing. It’ll still be faster than waiting a week for a phone call that may or may not happen.
  • Are you in extremely different timezones? Email if at all possible. Calls and video chats outside normal routine can be disruptive, especially if one party or the other doesn’t keep an eye on the time you agreed upon.
  • Do they need an update on an ongoing issue? Email. If someone just needs to be reassured that progress is happening, this goes under the heading of passing along information. Do not demand that someone disrupt their day just so you can tell them where things are at.
  • Are you short on time? Email. Do not delay a problem because you don’t have time for a call.
  • Did you miss the last scheduled call/meeting for whatever reason? Email. If you want to set up another meeting, go ahead, but dash off a short email in the meantime with any immediately important info the other person needs.

Note that I advocate for scheduling a call. Calling repeatedly with no warning or shooting one-line emails that say “are u available now” are surefire ways to keep an issue unresolved for weeks. It also wastes a lot of time for both of you that would be better served typing up a short email.

There Are Exceptions — You Still Need to Be Polite

Of course, there are chat services (Slack, Hipchat, etc) that sort of step in between playing phone tag and filling up someone’s inbox. It’s like popping your head into a coworker’s office to see if they’re in the middle of something or if they’re getting up for a coffee break. I have definitely had positive experiences where someone was like, Hey, I see you’re online… do you have a minute to talk about XYZ? I can either say sure, or I can ask to schedule something later.

So it’s not that there aren’t exceptions to my pretty little bullet list. Working pleasantly with others is just about respecting each other’s time and recognizing that we are not each other’s only priorities.