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Working Remote: When to Pick Up The Phone

Jason Pliml

As someone who has worked remotely for nearly a decade, I know how easy it is to develop a heavy reliance on communication and collaboration tools like Slack, Swizzy, and Trello. They are so quick and convenient, they often become the only communication tools we use.

Still, there are some situations where it makes sense to ping the person on the other end with “can we talk?”

Here are some situations best handled by phone or video chat:

  • Avoiding Ambiguity – When you start typing an explanation and find yourself inserting caveats, adding parentheses, or struggling with wording, it’s a good sign that a phone conversation will better alleviate ambiguity. You can always recap in writing for posterity.

  • Clearing Assumptions – Ever get the sense that you’re not on the same wavelength as another person? Unlike ambiguity, which is the misunderstanding of words, assumptions are based on past experiences – often creating very different sets of “glasses” that people view the world through. The cure is explaining where you’re coming from and asking probing background questions… And that usually works better when people can actually speak to one another.

  • Delivering Bad News/Constructive Criticism – Written words struggle to convey empathy. The human voice can deliver a message within the message through tone, volume, and pace. Talking also offers the added benefit of being able to quickly discern how the message is landing for the listener. You can reiterate, ask questions, express sympathy, and use a myriad of other micro adjustments, all by observing a person’s breathing, nervous laughter, or quiet pause. If a situation makes you nervous and you’re tempted to hide behind the chat window, embrace that as a sign it’s imperative to pick up the phone!

  • Determining Accurate Information – The written word can mask the truth. Hearing a person’s tone, their pace of talking, or seeing their body language on video chat reveals what’s hidden behind the words. Speaking in real time eliminates the ability to edit the words before hitting send, so answers tend to be more raw and authentic.

  • Remind Others of Your Humanity – Whether it’s simply to connect with a coworker you rarely see, or because someone is upset with you (treating you like an avatar on a screen and not a human being), picking up the phone often restores the human connection. It helps reduce the isolation that can occur when working remotely. Talking can also quickly dissipate any ill-intentions that people may perceive when they see you only as a screen icon. Hearing your voice has a way of clarifying that the thing you wrote was intended to be helpful, not critical. 


As convenient as chat platforms and project management systems can be, using our voices to speak directly to one another still provides clarity that typing often cannot. Ultimately, where we work from doesn’t matter, as long as we stay connected in meaningful ways.