Is now the time to hang up on office voicemails?

07 September 2015 -


With Coca-Cola and JP Morgan both scrapping voicemail systems for office landlines, Insights takes a look at whether this is the end of the line for the system, and what this means for the workplace

Jermaine Haughton

During their heyday in the 1980s and 90s, voicemail systems were highly-valued in offices across Europe and the US, as corporations became more confident conducting business by telephone – as opposed to more costly and time-consuming communication methods such as post.

Today, however, voicemail has taken on the role of the antiquated system, as emails, texts and instant messaging make quicker and more precise person-to-person communication a reality.

Caller ID and the ‘missed calls’ log on modern landline and mobile phones make it easier for users to call back clients and customers without having to listen to an audio message.

And new digital services such as instant messaging and the more traditional text messages are making communication instant and less time consuming, putting further pressure on the slower and more obtrusive phone call.

Want to know more about instant messaging in the office? Then read our great office chat debate

An email or text message may arguably be less personal than a phone call, but with many business executives often tied to their smartphones, the ability to send and receive short, and quick messages while on the go is a valuable option.

Rather tellingly, as JPMorgan Chase begun shutting down its voicemail lines in austerity measures to save an estimated £2.1m annually, the investment bank was surprised that 65% of employees were volunteering to abandon the system.

This apathy for voicemail stretches back at least as far as 2012 when USA Today and Vonage research claimed the number of voicemail messages had fallen by some 8% compared to the previous year.

In the Harvard Business Review, Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, said: “More and more personal and corporate voicemail boxes now warn callers that their messages are rarely retrieved and that they’re better off sending emails or texts.

“Consequently, informal individual policies have metastasized into de facto institutional practice … The truly productive have effectively abandoned voicemail, preferring to visually track who’s called them on their mobiles.”

While research suggests workers of all ages are not using voicemail, the phasing out of the system does place corporations in line with their millennial workers, who have grown up hardly ever having to rely on leaving phone messages.

In fact, having extensive experience with social networking platforms, instant chat, voicemail-to-text software and smartphones, many of the career starters companies hire today are already well-versed in how to use modern communication tools to achieve goals quickly and efficiently.

While bosses should accept the continuing shift away from voicemail, they must bear in mind the impact on their company’s external relationships, particularly with older, more traditional customers.

A transition period is advised whereby the organisation gradually reduces its voicemail lines, in combination with a public explanation to customers explaining the decision and offering them suitable alternatives.

This helps companies avoid confusion for customers who are both accustomed to and happy with the voicemail service.

But with new technology offering cheaper and more effective alterniatves, voicemail just doesn’t seem to have a part to play in the future of the office.

As Andrew Schrage, co-owner of personal finance website, concluded: “Voicemail served the business community well for a certain period of time, but times have changed.”

Powered by Professional Manager