Straw poll: Do you prefer questions at your desk vs phonecall vs email?
August 13, 2015 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Do you mind if co-workers simply drop by your desk to ask you a question or give you info? Do you prefer getting impromptu questions from one of these channels over the others --> in person, phonecall, email, instant message?

At work, I think I spend too much time on emails when I have questions or need to relay information. I'm hesitant to interrupt people at their desks because I don't want to pull them away from their focus. So I lean towards taking my time to think out and craft emails.

However, this isn't necessarily the most efficient use of time. Even though I try to keep my emails short, my re-re-recrafted emails often have typos or don't flow very well anyway!

What's your personal preference? My coworkers are all pretty personable but we all have lots to do.
posted by watrlily to Human Relations (68 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I hate drop bys. Email gives me a chance to answer on my own schedule.
posted by bearwife at 5:07 PM on August 13, 2015 [42 favorites]

Can you instant message them in some way, so see if/when they have a few minutes for you to drop by and chat? I find that works out well.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 5:09 PM on August 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

Depends on the question, I think. Phonecall is only for international live meetings (in other words, avoid at all costs), email for big serious things which need to be saved and recorded (rarely coworker-to-coworker), IM for quick little things (Definitely preferred), and in-person for when it's likely to involve some back-and-forth.

That said, if your company uses Slack (or similar), that's basically become my favorite communication tool for everything. It's replaced IM and email in our company for everything except some automated messages and external-company contact. It's quick to work with, easy to extend/hook into services, it preserves a record, and you can split off channels for topics. I didn't think it would make much of a difference (Being used to IRC), but it really does.
posted by CrystalDave at 5:10 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't usually mind at all if there's discrete info to be delivered or a clear question/request asked. But it drives me crazy when someone comes with an ostensible point but then wants to have a ten-minute-long meandering discussion about something.
posted by threeants at 5:13 PM on August 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

For internal questions, I have no preference - drop by, phone call, email are all fine. I work in a big cube farm where people are always being interrupted so we're all fine with being interrupted. Dropping by my desk is actually the easiest for me because then I can just answer you, and move on.

For people outside the office, though, I much prefer email. I almost never answer my phone, and I am not crazy about the drop-by either.

(we have a lot of visitors in our office, so the drop-by is always possible.)
posted by lyssabee at 5:16 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me it's slack (instant message) if it's a really quick question and/or time sensitive, email if it's not. Or worst case put something on my calendar for a chat. I don't even have a phone on my desk and virtually none of my coworkers have my cell number (a couple of execs have it in case of emergency). Dropping by is much less annoying to me than a phone call, but it's not terribly effective because I'm completely willing to say I don't have time to talk if I'm in the middle of something. (Also I'm away from my desk a lot, so it can be a wasted trip if you walk over without hitting me up on slack first)
posted by primethyme at 5:20 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've only ever worked in small offices, so were all near each other anyway and it was perfectly easy to just talk. That said, for outside people I almost always prefer phone to email, by far. I hate having to have chains of emails going on and on with little follow-up questions, or things that need to be restated, or whatever. Having a dynamic conversation makes it so much easier to get a clear understanding of what someone is looking for, at least for me.

Oh yeah, and like primethyme said, chat is good too, for much the same reason.
posted by teponaztli at 5:23 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding slack/IM. Emails get lost in my barely-manageable inbox. I work remotely at the moment, but even in the office, I'd prefer Slack for a simple question rather than someone interrupting (Slack etiquette, at least in my office, doesn't necessitate an instant reply). Phone, almost never.
posted by three_red_balloons at 5:25 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I like being asked by email to let the person know when they could drop by to discuss an issue, but I also have to deal with some complicated questions so phone/email is less likely to be productive.
posted by janey47 at 5:26 PM on August 13, 2015

If it's something that requires an instant reply, walk over and ask. At the same time, you can reinforce your personal human connection with the person. And you will not waste time while waiting on a reply.

If it's a group thing, then email.

If it's away, then of course, email, but if necessary, follow up with an individual email or phone call.

In short, walk over and ask. By god, you are people in an office, not automatons. Just get up and ask.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:28 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

It really depends on the office culture. I'm working now in an office where everyone calls on the phone all the time. At first, it was really hard to get used to, because I came from a very IM-heavy office. But now I actually prefer it.

I think this is one of those things where you just need to ask the people you're communicating with frequently. Preferences vary widely.
posted by decathecting at 5:31 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Depends on situation and preference. I bet you will get all over the board answers.

My preferences would be e-mail/in person over phone because god, I hate dealing with weird complicated shit over a phone with no visuals. People also ramble a hell of a lot worse over the phone and drift off point a lot, and you end up with a lot of dead quiet space while you look something up. If it's really complicated/requires someone to physically show me stuff, then you'd better come in person. If it can be explained over e-mail (or I need a written record of this) and I can look things up pretty easily, then I'd prefer e-mail.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:31 PM on August 13, 2015

I prefer IM for stuff like "do you know where I can find the Widget Repair process document?" or "I'm leaving at 3 for a doctor's appointment." I get 100+ emails a day, if you need an answer within 4 hours you may not get it by email.

However - if it's something I'll need to remember a week from now, I'd rather have it in email. "How many widgets should we order for the Caracas facility? Here's a spreadsheet of how many they used per month for the last 5 years."

Stopping by my desk is really only okay if you are offering me food.
posted by desjardins at 5:32 PM on August 13, 2015 [14 favorites]

I've sometimes found myself the only "get up and ask" person in an office full of people who are seemingly attached to their computers. Getting up and walking around is good for humans, and so is directly interacting with them face to face. However, in order to keep things cordial I would err on the side of Office Culture and just IM people if that's what everyone else is comfortable with.
posted by Elly Vortex at 5:40 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I almost always hate it when people stop by my desk. I like interacting with humans, I don't like being interrupted. If you want to interact with me like a human, ask me to lunch.
posted by grouse at 5:42 PM on August 13, 2015 [14 favorites]

Phone is never the right answer for me. Email if at all possible, or if it's time sensitive or too confidential for email, stop by if you must. IM is great for stuff that doesn't need to be documented, like "hey, can you test this link when you get a chance" but few of my coworkers use it.

Emailing to request a meeting later on in the day is fine too if you don't want to deal with crafting a detailed email but a,so want to be respectful of my time. I'd much rather agree that we'll chat at 1 pm than have you drop by out of the blue for the same chat right now.
posted by Stacey at 5:43 PM on August 13, 2015

Email under all circumstances. For one, I want to be able to respond at my leisure. Also, I like to have a written record of correspondence. (If someone does come to me or call me about something, I'll generally email them summarizing our conversation afterwards.)
posted by srrh at 5:47 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like the occasional face-to-face question or discussion, but my coworkers do not overdo it, and everyone is sensitive about doing it when you're not obviously deep in the tank.
posted by thelonius at 5:47 PM on August 13, 2015

I hate hate hate phones, but I'm ok with doing a quick face-to-face if I have a question about where to send reports. Email is fine if it's for more time-intensive stuff, like researching overages/shortages.
posted by lineofsight at 6:06 PM on August 13, 2015

I hate calls for any reason at all but I'm hearing impaired so eemmv.

Drop-ins are only acceptable if the dropper inner understands that, beyond polite greetings, small talk is wasting my time and yours, and if you are showing up unannounced (aka PENETRATING MY FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE) as a potential grantee I am going to be less likely to look with favour upon your proposal if I have to struggle to chat with you about non-grant-related inanities for half an hour.

Emails are the best always unless I am dealing with someone with whom I can talk with via text message, and then txt is best.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:13 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Everyone is busy as shit and has better things to do. But you must have a balance between the importance of YOUR needs vs. the needs of the other person to do their shit.


If a response isn't needed for at least 8 hours, I do an email. 95% of things can be resolved with an email.

If a response is needed that day, I do a quick phone call. I do it in a way, so that the other person understands that this will save them time in the end as well.

I almost NEVER do drop-bys. But when I do, I give them a quick phone call to let them know I'm coming so they can put their shoes back on and stop looking at cat videos on youtube.

But yeah, people are all about "just email me, and i'll get back to you at my own convenience". I don't buy that BS either; its about both parties getting their needs met, and both parties not feeling as if they are bowing down to the demands of the other.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:22 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Email mostly, but the emails I keep are for reference or for things I need to keep evidence of.

Phone and drop bys are either for once and dones that don't need documentation, or issues too sensitive or complicated for email (you know, to avoid 58 emails on the same subject).

Note: when I do phone and drop bys, I always ask if the person is interruptible. I'd pay good money to get that courtesy in return.

Do not give me a file printed out on paper. Email that shit to me at the very least.

Work requires concentration, so I won't even sign in to the corporate IM. Email is immediate enough.
posted by vers at 6:29 PM on August 13, 2015

I haaaaaate talking to people with my face, especially if it's about anything complex or technical. Email is much preferable for things like that because it gives you both time to process and convey the necessary information, and after you're done, you have complete documentation of everything that you discussed. Documentation of in-person discussions is always lossy.

However, if it's something that's going to require a lot of back and forth or a kind of flowchart sort of discussion (if they say [a], you need to know [b] and [c], etc.), or if you're trying to get a squishy read on how they feel about something, that sort of needs to happen by actually talking, on the phone or in person. Ideally, you maybe should set that up by email beforehand, though, so you're not interrupting them.

If it's just short yes/no kind of stuff, it probably doesn't matter. Ask them when they're super-obviously free, send an email or IM or whatever.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:34 PM on August 13, 2015

Part of my job is to coach and train most of the people I work with, so dropping in is actually best. I want to address the thing that the colleague came in for and also potentially branch off from there to show them something related that they should know about.

If the people you're writing emails to have as their responsibility doing training/coaching/mentoring with you, they may welcome you stopping by. It's easier than writing back a whole manual to you for whatever it is you're dealing with.

If you are writing these emails to the same handful of people, why not just ask them what they prefer? But also filter for matters of fact vs. discussions around judgement, negotiation, politics, strategy etc. If your question has a one line answer, then email, im, whatever. But if it's about something more complex, either stop by or send a one line email asking when a good time to stop by to discuss the issue would be. (When I have been in junior roles and sent emails with 3 or more questions, I've only gotten answers to the first)

There have been a number of times where I've re-re-written a 3 sentence email, and then just gotten up and asked the person. In just about every case, I've been glad to discuss the issue with whomever. If you're drafting a question many times over, it's because it's complex enough to warrant a face to face discussion.

On a meta level, this is part of learning the ins and outs of the place you're working. This is an iterative process. Try to sort out who prefers what form of communication for what sort of issues.
posted by thenormshow at 6:35 PM on August 13, 2015

its about both parties getting their needs met, and both parties not feeling as if they are bowing down to the demands of the other.

It depends on whether answering your questions on demand is a core job responsibility of the person you are asking. If it's not, then it is worth thinking about how to minimize disruption to the actual core responsibilities of that person.

Put another way: if you work in a place where people work in bursts of concentration and you disrupt a flow state that takes someone 20 min to get into to save yourself 5 min of writing email, that's a net loss for your employer.
posted by grouse at 6:41 PM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh god don't come over is my general feeling. I'm in an inhumane open office, wearing my headphones, thinking thinky thoughts and using all my power to ignore distractions. Don't ruin that.
posted by dame at 6:50 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Phone/stopping by is OK, SOMETIMES, if you know your question is super quick and urgent. If it involves me looking up files or graphs or spreadsheets, for the love of god, don't call-- I'm bound to a phone and you have to wait for me to look shit up (worse in person when they stand and watch me do it).

Email is almost always best in my job, because I'm triaging multiple request streams at any given time and don't want to halt everything because one bozo walked up to my desk. (Bozo is harsh but hey, it's cutting in the queue.) I have one coworker who occasionally visits my desk 5+ times a day, and I... curse her.

Learning to write quick, succinct email is a very valuable job skill. Find someone you admire in this area and emulate them.
posted by easter queen at 6:50 PM on August 13, 2015

This is something I always ask people I frequently work with. I keep a mental map of who prefers a well thought out email, who wants to hash things out in Slack, and who wants face time. I'm flexible.
posted by advicepig at 7:02 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

In person: never.
IM: for coworkers I work closely with in a pinch, otherwise just for joking around and chatting
Email: almost everything
Phone: drop dead emergencies/I simply must talk to you/almost always preceded by an email
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:11 PM on August 13, 2015

For context: I work at a startup-ish tech company. I am a software engineer. I'm an older millennial.

I highly prefer Slack/instant message for ad-hoc requests and questions. Slack is discreet. I can monitor it with half my attention and still be on top of urgent requests. There's a written record to reference for purposes of documentation and demonstration. People are much more casual (and funny) because it's a lot more like a conversation. There are a lot of cute emoji that give me the warm fuzzies (I don't have an Android phone, so no adorable gumdrop shaped faces for me unless I'm chatting on Slack. Ahhhhhh.). I love Slack.

Email is, to my mind, for formal announcements that aren't time sensitive (company news, major feature release, upcoming birthday celebration, new baby, technology X study group) and long form missives (someone mulling over a new architectural approach, a thoughtful farewell). Email demands more of my attention and care than chat does, so I check it less often and respond more slowly.

I'm okay with people dropping by now and then, but I can and have told people to stick to email/chat when I'm too busy to deal with in-person interruptions. Unannounced drop-ins are very disruptive to my workflow because they jolt me out of a non-verbal state of mind into one where I have to process facial expressions, emote, and remember personal context. I know this makes me sound like a robot but it's not easy to shift from one headspace to the other without any warning. It's like waking up from a dream. I am usually happy to meet up in person if people send me a direct message first as it gives me a much gentler transition from one state to the next.
posted by rhythm and booze at 7:12 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also vastly prefer IM. Email if it's something that can wait a couple hours and probably requires complex thinking to answer. Phone only when arranged in advance. Stopping by my desk only if we were about to go into a meeting together anyway, or if the question is both urgent and complex enough that calling a meeting to hash it out right now would be sensible (Client wants a deck of 50 ways to do Y by tomorrow, what do we do?), or possibly if the answer to that question is likely to substantially change what I'm working on right now. (Is X done yet? Because they want to add in Y before the meeting if there's time.) Note that in both of those stopping-by-my-desk examples, the questioner is also providing new information.

But mostly IM.
posted by Andrhia at 7:12 PM on August 13, 2015

I want my coworkers to instant message me and ask the question itself if it's a question that lends itself to IMing. Otherwise, I want people to IM me first to ask if/when they can call or drop by to hash it out. E-mail only if it's an exchange that should be recorded for posterity or if it's some situation where IM isn't feasible (after hours, sending via phone, etc.).
posted by gatorae at 7:14 PM on August 13, 2015

Oh actually a note on IM: highly rude thing to do to anyone who works for you. It's actually kind of rude generally, but there's a specific obliviousness to 'hey can you do X for Y' in the middle of someone's workday when they're unfairly in a position where they have to carry out your fleeting thought in the middle of what they were doing.

All communications should have a sense about priority to the organization overall and to the individual person, and that's what guides the medium.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:15 PM on August 13, 2015

I dislike the phone and am OK with anything else, assuming I'm physically in the office.

But different people have different preferences. You should really be asking your coworkers what THEY like.
posted by yarntheory at 7:18 PM on August 13, 2015

Flow is law. Synchronous communication breaks flow. Of the options you mentioned, only email is asynchronous.

Does it require an answer RIGHT THE FUCK NOW? In an emergency sense? That is more important than at least an hour of productive work for me? If and only if the answers to all these are yes should you call, IM or drop by.

Break my flow, make me drop all the delicate state information I was holding in my head, and it will be an hour, on a good day, before I can regain that flow state.

That's an hour I could have been getting more done that you accomplish in a week of your interrupt-driven, "multi-tasking" distracted-driving simulacrum of working.
posted by sourcequench at 7:26 PM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Mixed but mostly negative on in person drop bys. A string of them in a row can get frustrating but at least it can be an efficient means of solving a problem.

Not nearly as negative as phone as the consensus here. I can always choose not to answer and let it go to voicemail. Hate IM.

E-mail is the best but people should spend time on their end to make sure it's clear what is being asked. *Not* to free associate about the topic at hand. I can ask a follow up question if I need to--don't put 10 paragraphs of irrelevancies into it because you think that's doing me a favor.
posted by mark k at 7:31 PM on August 13, 2015

I prefer people dropping by. It seems like all I do all day much of the time is answer emails, so talking to actual people face to face is a nice break from screen time. I'd much rather have one conversation with someone than get a bunch of separate emails that I now all have spend time answering separately. Of course, I'm a weirdo who actually likes office chatter and finds that sometimes talking things out is a good way to move a project forward. Except for the phone. Please don't ever call me on the phone.
posted by heurtebise at 7:51 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking, I prefer email, because it's less likely to interrupt me, and I have a written record of the conversation if we need it later on. Phone is my least favorite, because phone calls have all the bad features of in-person conversations (potential for interruption, occasional mishearing, forgetting conversational details after the fact) and none of the good ones (body language, being able to show the other person relevant info on your monitor).

It really depends on the person and the situation, though. My boss, for example, has an overflowing inbox, and may well be reading whatever I send him while running to a meeting. If there's something important I need to tell him, I make sure to tell him in person. For someone whose job requires a lot of focus, email is always a safe bet. In person is good for coworkers who like chatting or if there's some visual element to your question. I guess the phone is a good choice if you don't particularly like a coworker and want to annoy them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:07 PM on August 13, 2015

We don't have phones at work and I don't usually check email more than a few times a day so IM or stopping by my desk are the best ways to talk to me. We have a culture of pretty tight collaboration so we spend a lot of time at each other's desks anyway. My last team used Slack a lot but sadly my current team isn't interested in trying it.
posted by octothorpe at 8:35 PM on August 13, 2015

A lot depends on the culture of your office and the individual.

I'm a fan of in-person conversations. I'm an external processor and it helps me to say things out loud (whether asking or answering). And I'm kind of an introvert / standoffish so people never drop by my desk to discuss their weekend - which is how I like it - but that means that I primarily bond over work questions.

Plus after all the stuff I've read about how we're sitting too much, I appreciate an excuse to get up and walk over to see someone.

However, I try to gauge how different people feel about the walk-up question. If I get a feeling from their body language that they aren't a fan, I'll either IM them to ask if it's a good time to drop by or just send an email with my question.

I appreciate it when someone IMs me before they come by. Right now I don't get many interruptions, but I used to regularly get several all day long, and I began to resent it.
posted by bunderful at 8:52 PM on August 13, 2015

I kind of hate the phone (and don't love, but am ok with, drop-ins), but I think there are some situations/questions that it can be good for: specifically questions which are hard or potentially confusing to explain, but you expect to be easy for the other person to answer. So basically I pick up the phone for those. I usually drop in only on people who are in close proximity.

Otherwise slack or email depending.
posted by pennypiper at 9:18 PM on August 13, 2015

I work with data so I loathe drop-bys because as people have said it breaks your flow and you're twenty minutes trying to get back into the zone. also drop-bys are never as organized and coherent as they think they are.

It might look like coding is just staring at the screen and tapping keys so what's the big need for focus, but in the person's head it's more like juggling plates while balancing on a unicycle. That stuff takes some time to get working and one little distraction blows up the whole thing.
posted by winna at 9:53 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

It really depends on your office culture. 90% of my coworkers are in another office, so I already spend a ridiculous amount of time on the phone. Also, I work in IT, so it really depends on your business, too.

Here's how our culture works (assuming one is in the same office).

Short question or need an answer fairly quickly: IM "Hi" to the person. They respond back with "Hi" when they have 3-5 minutes to chat. That may or may not be immediate. If they're in the middle of something, it could be hours later.

Complex question or to convey information (here's the design document, please note X, Y, and Z): Email. However, if there's a few rounds of "but what about?" or if things get really off the rails with a thread, the person who started it will schedule a 15-20 minute meeting with all relevant people to resolve it and stop the email thread degeneration.

Stop by my desk: It's ok, but realize I am probably already on the phone with someone, so may not be able to talk to you. Also, if the proverbial "everything" is on fire, I will probably be rude and tell you that I am in the middle of a bad situation and unless it's an emergency, I cannot talk to you right now. Most of the time, people understand and say, "Sorry! I'll send an email!" though occasionally I've gotten the "Sheesh! I just wanted to come by to say Hi!". Great! Hi! Now go away so I can fix this thing, because maintaining cordial relationships is great, but depending on how bad the issue is, not spending every minute of my focus fixing it could be really bad for me.

But yes, it really depends on your company and group and office's culture. Also, the roles that different people have - consider the classic Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule. If you are not a programmer, but work with programmers, and can keep what he's talking about in mind, the programmers will love you.
posted by RogueTech at 9:55 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Email only, or maybe IM if it's a trivial discussion that no-one will need to refer back to (since in my office IMs aren't stored, so there's no record of the discussion), but I absolutely hate in-person visits or phonecalls, and I always resent people who interrupt me with them - I understand that most people like to talk to other humans face-to-face for the sake of it, but I'm at work to *work*, not to provide my colleagues with interpersonal contact.
posted by RedRob at 9:59 PM on August 13, 2015

IM. My office culture is very much a "just go over to their desk and ask them" culture and I haaaate that. Managers in particular are always like "Hey, let's go ask!" Ugh.

Honestly, it's crossed my mind to find a new job at a company where they use Slack because I think I'd be about a million times happier.
posted by town of cats at 10:07 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I prefer email (see above: flow & the cost of task switching). However, long elaborate right-out-of-the-gate emails are not welcome. If it takes more than a paragraph to explain, or if there is any emotional resonance to it, I prefer "hi. i'm confused about X project. is there a good time for us to talk today?" because once I have dropped out of flow, I'd much rather talk to a co-worker face-to-face than through email.
posted by macinchik at 10:41 PM on August 13, 2015

Please have enough respect for your co-workers not to drop by unannounced to talk about substantive topics that aren't emergencies.

Lots of good stuff up thread about when to use which and how, but remember: if you decide to go to a co-worker's desk, what you're saying is: "My time and what I have to say is more important than anything you could possibly be working on."

If that's true, go nuts I guess.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:56 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Instant message for me all the way. I can respond when I need to. It doesn't clog up my inbox. We can resolve issues 50% of the time and if not I just say "Just come on over and let's chat this out".
posted by like_neon at 1:04 AM on August 14, 2015

I really quite like drop bys. It helps form and solidify friendly working relationships with colleagues and it's easier for me to chat through questions informally than have to compose a formal email that goes on record forever. IM is okay but just as much of an interruption as a drop by really. If I'm on a tight deadline and can't talk I'll just day so politely and arrange a better time. If the chat is likely to last more than a couple minutes we'll usually grab a coffee which makes things even more pleasant. I'm surprised to see how many people dislike drop bys on this thread and will try to keep that in mind when approaching colleagues though.
posted by hazyjane at 1:27 AM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a drop by fan myself , quite like phone too. I can explain myself (/my work) so much faster and more clearly (and with more nuance) talking than typing.
posted by hotcoroner at 1:37 AM on August 14, 2015

IM for any quick ad hoc questions, to ask if we can discuss somethimg more elaborate on the phone/face to face and to agree when we're both free to do that.

Email for everything that's not time sensitive or requires more elaborate information, attachments etc.

Do not come to my desk unless it is something that we both need to look at together and one of us is coaching the other.

Only use the phone/Lync if
- we are having a conf call/video conference that replace in person meetings
- Or if we are going to talk about complex stuff that avoids a long email chain and can be summarised in one follow up email.
- Or if we're discussing something complex that we both have to look at and think through together and we have both had the opportunity to look at the information before the call.
- Or if you and I work together on a number of diverse things and need to have a catch up on all of them, i.e. too cumbersome to put into 1 email.

And please respect your co-workers enough not to waste their time by arranging meetings when you don't have to have a meeting with them - see various other comments on core competencies and roles. I've recently started to work with a new (to the project) colleague on an established project. They kept forcing these meetings on me, unspecific agendas and every time the meeting overran by anywhere between 50-100% of the scheduled time. We also seemed to discuss the same thing multiple times. Their predecessor and I were able to do the coordination entirely by IM, email and occasional phone calls with their predecessor. My interpretation was that this person is significantly out of their depth and was using me to coach them on all aspects of their new role. But that's not my job and I don't have capacity to do that. So I started to reign in these meetings by insisting on specific task oriented agendas and by scheduling other things back to back to give me hard cut-off points. I also raised this with my boss as a problem. My boss raised it with their boss who is now doing the overall coaching the person requires and is keeping a much closer eye on the process to make sure it doesn't run off the rails their end. I was not very popular with my new contact but my boss is supportive and they write my review, not the new contact.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:25 AM on August 14, 2015

I haaaaaaaaaaaate drop-bys. I also have some colleagues who sit across the office from me and occasionally bellow questions over at me, or will stop me while I'm on my way to the toilet or something to ask me stuff. It makes me insane with rage. Phone calls are not quite so bad but also have that sense of "Whatever you're doing can wait! My time is more important". We're all in our 30s.

Emails all the way. I can respond when I need to.

dmd's link was fascinating! I don't know if this is a generational thing but I DO know that the entire reason we have an open plan office is to facilitate drop-by conversations, of which our director is a big fan, and he's a fair bit older. He finds emails very rude, and often wonders why no one ever uses the phone anymore.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:29 AM on August 14, 2015

Email: for anything formal where a paper trail is a good thing. Also for announcements that don't really require a response.

IM: for things like "do you know where the sales reports live?". Simple non-urgent questions with a simple answer.

In person: For anything that might get complicated. Preceded by "do you have a moment to talk about widget sales figures?" and potentially by me saying "Can we talk about that this afternoon? Maybe we should loop in X and Y?". Bonus points for waiting until I'm obviously having a coffee / loo break and thus not in the middle of a train of thought.

If you need to ask little questions of someone quite often, then maybe it's worth having a conversation with that person or with your common boss, like "I don't want to be interrupting Zeb the whole time but I often can't continue my work without her input, how do you prefer we handle this". The answer might be "Your work is critical, keep interrupting Zeb" or "Zeb's work is critical, it's ok if you do something else while you wait", or "We should have a weekly planning meeting where we work out what we need for the week ahead and make sure it's all lined up", or "Zeb's department should publish the Whosit figures regularly so everyone else can find them" or "Let's give you authority to just get on with this and make decisions without needing to check in with Zeb".
posted by emilyw at 3:30 AM on August 14, 2015

I prefer emails for technical requests because that gives me time to think about/research/talk to my colleagues to help me give the best answer. I can manage if I'm put on the spot but I worry that I come off sounding less authoritative and/or that I will forget something or give out more vague/less accurate info. If someone just wants to tell me something, any method is fine. I would say I prefer emails overall though!
posted by EatMyHat at 3:39 AM on August 14, 2015

I am ok with dropbys if the person IMs me first to ask if/when I have a minute to chat.

I work in a very small office but I have one colleague who will rush over all in a panic about something which is in no way an emergency to ask me about some trivial thing I may or may not have worked on six months ago, and it takes me a few minutes to figure out what he is talking about and go through my emails to find the thread that would explain it all while he is hovering by. Obviously this is hugely annoying.

My boss does not respond in a timely way to emails or IMs so if I am working on something that requires his input I will schedule a meeting and put it in the office calendar.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:44 AM on August 14, 2015

I am OLD (50), so I will express the opposite of almost everyone here. My company is a marketing/data company, and we're in many many locations and in many many time zones. We live and die by meetings, almost all of which are conducted via WebEx or the like. There are probably 7000 people that I could potentially interact with within my company. I do knowledge management, so largely my job is organizing things. Most of the people I work with regularly are much younger than I am.

My perspective is not from a what is rude vs. polite perspective, like the chart dmd posted (which I think is kind of bullshit, really, since everyone I know that is my age IMs, tweets, and texts all the time), but from a "how damned long it takes to get an answer out of people" perspective.

So email: I like email for the paper trail aspect, and for the ability to add graphics and such for instructional purposes. I get extremely annoyed by lengthy strings of email where people are only capable of answering one of a series of questions. I ask 1. and 2. and I get a half answer for 1. so then I have to get the rest of 1. in the next email (if I'm lucky) and then 2. takes another email. Which all takes time. If people were less inattentive I would prefer email, but for those of you who skim (i.e., almost everyone), you annoy me.

Now, IM is ok, but sometimes the intro conversation takes forever:
"Hi, do you have a sec for a question?"
. . . (three/four minutes go by where I am giving the chat window at least a small amount of my attention while the other party does SOMETHING ELSE) . . .
"(slow laborious typing) ok, so do you know who has (thing)?"
"sure, Bob Smith would be a good person to check with for (thing)!"
. . . (three/four minutes go by where I am giving the chat window at least a small amount of my attention while the other party does SOMETHING ELSE) . . .
"Thanks so much!"
Ain't nobody got time for that.

Phone call: "Hey, can you remember who has (thing)?" "Huh, I think Bob Smith might know!" "Cool, thanks!"

Person standing over cube: "Hey, who has (thing)?" "Bob, I think? Hey, are you going to lunch later?"

So my preference is in person, phone, IM, then email. Unless you are a responsive reader, or you are a quick responder. Then email is #1. I work from home 2x per week most weeks, so that leaves out phone and in person on those days. Then I suffer.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:12 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I will note that I never cold call anyone. I always ask in email if they have a moment to call me and give my number. I think that's important (especially given our culture of constant meetings). I have one marketing manager who just calls me out of the blue, usually with something complicated, and I roll my eyes every time the phone rings.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:19 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

ADHD here. Haaaate interruptions. If I've managed to get into the zone and focus on something, it will take me about 30 minutes to get back into it if you pull me out. Is whatever you need important enough for me to lose 30 minutes of my workday? If so, then I'm happy for you to drop by or call. If you instead need to ask me if you can play World of Warcraft on an iPad...please email.

"It's only a short question" doesn't help. It's the fact that you have interrupted me at all that is the problem.

I am currently in an isolated office while the building is being renovated. It is heaven because nobody knows where I am. Once I move into my new office, I'll be in an area with others and people can find me again. I will probably be discussing with my supervisor ways I can signal "please don't knock on my door at this time unless it's important" because I have enough coworkers who want to stretch their legs and use dropping by my office to interrupt me and ask questions that could have been handled via email as an excuse. (Go ask my coworker over there! He's the sort who doesn't mind interruption!)
posted by telophase at 7:28 AM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Email is useful for first contacts, as it's low pressure. I don't have to be social for someone I don't know. Email is also great for information and decisions. If I need a paper trail or to be able to look something up in the future, this is the way to go. Email is also great for getting other people involved or letting a large group know about something quickly.

Email isn't great for getting something done quickly, particularly things that need a lot of back and forth. It's also quite transactional, and doesn't leave a lot of space for chat or socializing. Email is a traceable record, legally, even within your corporate culture. Sometimes you want something on the record.

Phone and face to face are good way to work on an issue together. Lots of back and forth means I colleague and I can work through something complicated that needs lots of input and/or little decisions quickly. Phone and in person conversation are also private. If you want to discuss something personal, or private without leaving footprints, this is the way to go. There's lots of room in phone or in person for chat or off-topic discussions, or catching up on other issues. Sometimes this is a great way to get a whole list of things done at once, but it can easily devolve into something that bores one of the folks.

That's also it's largest problem, it's hard to capture what was said in a call or a meeting, unless someone is diligently taking notes. Can work in a very formal setting, but less so in a water cooler chat.

Finally, particularly in person, I'm careful not to button hole people at their desks, unless I must. Approaching someone away from their desk is less of an interruption if they're trying to keep their head down, but I also don't like forcing people into having a conversation. If you just want to chat, especially, I try to do it in more neutral common areas, so someone can make an exit if they need to. Their desk neighbours will likely thank you too.
posted by bonehead at 8:26 AM on August 14, 2015

Email unless I really like the coworker then a drop by is okay or even welcome. I hate hate hate phone calls - so disruptive. Everyone at my work is too backwards to use IM so I don't either.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:13 AM on August 14, 2015

Email or chat. I really dislike when people drop by, it ruins my concentration. I do realize that sometimes it is necessary. If someone really wants to talk in person, prefer a quick "hey I have a quick question, can I come by?" IM first, because it gives me the chance to say "no" before they disrupt me.

Most people are not great about using IM statuses, but I put myself on red with the message "DND" if I really don't want to be disturbed. I expect (hope?) that someone isn't going to come over when I have DND on...but if it's green then I am less annoyed.
posted by radioamy at 10:16 AM on August 14, 2015

The shape of my workplace is changing, but in general my default preference would be 50-250 word emails. My second preference would be phone calls for things that might be vague, long-winded, or semi-sensitive. For all other matters, I schedule face-to-face weekly meetings with each person who reports to me.

I started rejecting long emails a while back. I'll reply "either call me if urgent or bring this topic up at our next meeting" and send it to archive. I mean, I'm not a dick about it -- if someone goes 347 words, I'll let it slide. But one person was sending me 1500+ word emails with ten distinct questions and that is not an appropriate use of company time.
posted by 99percentfake at 11:24 AM on August 14, 2015

Email or chat, unless something requires more than three back-and-forth followups. If someone knows that my answer will trigger a series of followup questions and requests, I appreciate a drop-by (if it's time sensitive) or a very informally scheduled meeting (e.g. a chat/brief email that checks in about dropping by for a five minute chat). As long as the in-person/phone conversation stuff isn't overused or pestering, I'd rather err on the side of face-to-face communication for things that require clarification. I've been on the other side of this, and spent way more time than was useful trying to parse and email response and phrase followup questions correctly. I also think that the in-person or phone stuff is useful for stuff that is semi-time sensitive, or for the question "Can you do this?/ do you have this information?", because it avoids a day or two of lost time if the eventual email response is "Nope, you should talk to Bob about that, not me."
posted by earth by april at 11:33 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

People coming by my office sometimes seem to assume I am doing nothing but waiting for them to bless me with their questions and that is not the reality of the situation. If I'm in the middle of some endeavor and have set Communicator to "busy" I do NOT want to change gears just because someone wants something that would be easy to cast into a message. There's an offender in my office who I am trying to train into accepting "I cannot change gears right now" as a three-part statement: 1) I'm *not* going to drop what I am doing to accommodate them, 2) that has nothing to do with them, but instead my own difficulty of changing gears, 3) that a heads-up email will elicit my own visit to their office when I'm free.
posted by jet_silver at 3:22 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm an outlier I guess. I prefer drop by questions. I get so annoyed when I get a long email from the people in the office next to me with what amounts to a simple question. Such a waste of both our time. If I'm busy, or don't want to be interrupted, then my door is closed (I realise a door is a luxury). If I'm at an office without a door, then I don't find it particularly distracting to say "sorry, I don't have time right now. Can we find some time xxx?"

If in doubt, schedule a half an hour or ask if you can come by with a question via instant messenger.

I hate phone calls-- I particularly hate them if the person is in the same office.
posted by frumiousb at 6:03 PM on August 14, 2015

(By the way, I believe strongly that emailing questions which can be asked in person is a great way to risk escalation when hurried people misread tone.)
posted by frumiousb at 6:04 PM on August 14, 2015

The Hidden Cost of Interrupting Knowledge Workers (hint: more than $588 billion/year in the U.S.)
I think it varies by office culture, but probably also more generally by profession. Personally, I am Slack all the way, and pre-Slack I was whatever IRC client was the flavor of the week. I will likely not answer my phone unless I am expecting your call and I have a pretty good idea what you need. I like the camaraderie of working several people to an office, but mostly just so we can chortle together about whatever just got posted to Slack. I don't care if our desks are three feet apart; if we aren't pair programming, ask me on Slack. (The bonus of a group channel is that frequently more than one person can answer a question, so somebody in a less critical phase of their flow state can probably tell you the answer right NOW.)
posted by instamatic at 3:59 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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