Q: In the past two years, my organization has implemented a communications platform that hosts video meetings, instant messaging, live chats, VoIP phone service and online project collaboration. I despise it. The “blink and you’ve missed it” notifications, coupled with the amount of message spam my organization puts out (“10 tips to be productive today!”), means that I frequently miss instant messages sent to me and won’t see them for hours.
There is no situation where contacting me via instant message is more effective than sending me an email, and yet this seems to be the new norm. Is there a polite, professional way let my co-workers know that email is the best way to get in touch with me, or do I simply need to accept this new, irritating way of working?
A: I read you loud and clear. Trying to focus on a task or conversation while being swarmed by chirps, dings, chimes and pop-ups is infuriating.
When your employer offers multiple internal communication channels, monitoring and responding to them all can easily consume most of the workday. Instead of being productive, you’re performing triage — and, as you note, that makes it harder to catch the important, relevant, truly time-sensitive messages.
As always, the problem is not the software so much as how it’s used or abused. Fortunately, where technology opens a window, it usually includes a way to shut it, or at least install a filter.
The solution is twofold:
1. Block out the riffraff. Do a Google search for “mute notifications” or “filter messages” and the name of the software your company uses. This will let you suppress pop-ups, silence audible alarms and shut down automated email notifications that may be cluttering your inbox. You may even be able to customize those settings to mute notifications from certain senders while letting others through. Be sure to periodically take a break from working to scan your silenced messages and filters, just to make sure nothing important slipped through.
2. Redirect the VIPs. If your software allows you to set a permanent status message, use it to let people know a better way to reach you. For example, when someone instant-messages me at my day job, my status message pops up to let them know my notifications are muted and email is a faster route. I’ve added a similar message to my email signature, along with my mobile phone number for urgent matters.
Fortunately, most people I work with want to respect my time as I want to respect theirs. They trust me to follow up in a reasonable amount of time, and I trust them not to blow up my phone with issues that could wait for email. Of course, we’ve all worked with those anxious souls who have to call “just to see if you got my email,” and your workplace may have different expectations about response methods and times.
But we’ve learned through the coronavirus pandemic that different people thrive in different environments, and that includes communication methods. While some people prefer putting their thoughts in writing, others would rather talk them out. And still others would prefer to receive and handle queries in the moment, rather than let emails pile up.
If we can accept a hybrid work model with flexible hours to let individuals perform at their best, we can certainly extend that concept to respecting preferences for email, phone or other communication channels.
If you’re patient and consistent in your responses, and if you are as respectful of other people’s ways of working as you want them to be of yours, you can eventually train most people to give you what you need — especially if it means they will get what they need from you that much faster.