How Today's Preference for Texts and Emails Is Changing Phone Call Etiquette

!( among us doesn't feel a Pavlovian surge of panic upon hearing the opening notes of their ringtone, followed by an awesome wave( of relief when the stranger next to them picks up their phone?

Baby boomers, apparently. A 2019 survey( of U.K. office workers reported that 76% of millennials experience anxiety about speaking on the phone, compared to 40% of baby boomers. The result is a clunky mismatch between communication expectations among colleagues and clients.


"Even as a child I was never big into using the telephone," said Will Manuel, president and CEO of Core Mobile Apps.( "My parents had rigorous rules around receiving calls from friends. That has extended into my adult life where I feel some anxiety toward having to be prepared to speak to anyone."

Manuel's avoidance of phone conversation, however, ended up working to his advantage – he found the alternatives were working far more seamlessly. "I've automated a lot of the communication tasks and follow-up sequences in my business that once used to yield phone calls," he said. "This requires me to be on the phone less and actually gain more productivity and efficiency in the process."

Thus, our gradual shift toward text-based communication has formed a feedback loop – instant messaging has spawned a generation inexperienced with phone calls, inexperience leads to anxiety and avoidance, and that avoidance has led to more and more innovative ways to get around talking on the phone in business.

Cutting the phone line

Anxiety is not the only factor, however. Globalization, the internet and the rise of remote work mean colleagues can collaborate long distance, and clients can be anywhere on the globe – the sun never sets on the 21st-century office. Expecting people to pick up the phone is no longer practical.

"We have several remote team members in different time zones, so using text communication works better," said Becky Beach, blogger( and developer for Verizon. Beach and her colleagues rarely make internal phone calls; instead, they use Slack to communicate.

Changes in the physical workplace are also working in concert to make phone conversation as difficult as possible. As of last year, only 40% of U.S. households( had operational landlines – down from 90% in 2004 – as they're steadily displaced by mobile phones. Many businesses are also opting to eliminate this redundancy. The problem is that compared with a landline, cell coverage is still spotty – a rare instance of a technology inferior to what it was 50 years ago. Add to that the advent of the open office(, where overheard telephone conversations are both awkward for the caller and distracting for everyone around them, and it's clear that phone communication is no longer functional for the working world.

Efficient messaging

There are plenty still perfectly capable of phone conversation, or at least willing to put up with the discomfort – it's the inefficiency of phone calls that's the problem.

"Phone calls require 100% attention, which today's employee can't afford to give. We need to multitask to get things done," Beach said. "If I were on calls all day, I would get less work finished!"

The norms have also changed. Clients or prospective clients may find phone calls invasive or presumptuous, often ...