phone message

When we think about the skills remote workers need to be successful, a lot of things come to mind: mad web presentation skills, the ability to sail through SharePoint like a swallow at Capistrano, and knowing how to appear on webcam without looking like the shadowy informant on a TV show are among them. But there is one old-school skill that seems to have been forgotten, and it can make your (and your team’s) life a lot easier: How to take a phone message.

A lot of you just rolled your eyes at that. For those of you who haven’t moved on to cat videos, hear me out. Why does taking a good phone message matter? After all, we have voicemail. When was the last time we actually TOOK a phone message? For half of you, when was the last time you actually used the phone to talk at all? Here’s why it matters.

It’s a frame of mind.

My mother was a secretary, back in the day when people were actually paid to answer the phone on behalf of someone else (yes, that was a thing.) She taught us there were five parts to taking a phone message, and woe betide any of us kids who didn’t do it properly, even at home.

  1. Who called?  (Mr. Johnson called)
  2. Who did they want to speak to?  (Wants to talk to Dad)
  3. What time?  (10:15)
  4. What did they want? (Wants dad to call him at 555-545-1425. Says it’s important)
  5. What action is supposed to be taken (and by when)?  (Call him at the store before 5 o’clock.)

So what do we mean by “frame of mind?” Because whether you are taking a message or sending one, leaving a voicemail or a chat message, writing an email or trying to figure out what the heck someone is actually asking for, following this format will eliminate frustration and multiple messages.

Different media, same goal

Certainly Instant Messages have your name and even your face on them, and emails have time stamps, but the idea is the same. Every time you send a message, people should know:

  • Who are you and when did you reach out?
  • Who you are sending the message to (in the case of email, this can be multiple people, but it should be clear)?
  • What time did the message come in?
  • What is it you want? Be as specific as you can, so people can be prepared. There’s nothing worse than taking the time to return a message only to find there’s something else you need to do. Help people get what you need the first time!
  • What specifically are you asking for, and when do you need it?

Leaving a voicemail? Help people by giving them the information you need.

Sending an IM? What about this isn’t appropriate?

How many misunderstandings, delays or missed opportunities could be avoided if we developed the habit of leaving, writing and generally communicating with this format in mind?

Who knows? You might even have to take a phone message one day.

Email is still our most commonly used (and misused) method of communication. We’ve got an on-demand course, Writing and Managing E-mail that can help you make e-mail the time-saver and productivity-enhancer it was meant to be.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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