Everyone responds differently to email and voicemail from internal co-workers, external customers and vendors. I believe setting expectations can improve communication.
If everyone agrees upon a process focusing on consistency with both co-workers and clients, we can build stronger relationships and ensure all points of contact are handled in the same manner. A major step toward improving communication is defining clear expectations to follow. These expectations include the following:
1) Calling versus emailing
2) Responding to voicemail
3) Sending email
4) Replying to email
5) Deciding who to carbon copy (Cc)
7) Committing to help each other
1) Calling versus emailing - Call first if the nature of the message is urgent, time sensitive, proprietary, personal, confidential or complex. Always call the office number first then the cell phone if available. Do not leave a voicemail answering this type of inquiry. Instead, always leave a voicemail on both lines requesting a call back.
2) Responding to voicemail - Respond to voicemail on the same day it was left unless your message indicates you are unavailable due to meetings or out of the office. If you can not fulfill the request being made of you due to other priorities, reply and indicate you will need more time to get back to them. Always follow up voicemail with an email.
3) Sending email - Make sure you check your spelling and take time to review your email before sending it. Be clear and to the point in your email. If you are asking a question be as specific as possible. You do not have control over who your initial email can be forwarded to and you do not want you or your company to appear unprofessional.
4) Replying to email - Do not reply with multiple paragraphs. As a general rule, if it takes more than 5 minutes to type you should pick up the phone and have a conversation. Do not engage in an argument via email. This has likely happened to all of us but, the professional and more effective path to take is to have a conversation in person or to pick up the phone and call. If the nature of the email is transactional (i.e. How much vacation time do I have?, What holidays are we closed? or Can you forward me a copy of the sales report?) then a brief reply with an answer to the question is appropriate. Reply to transactional emails the same day you receive them. If the nature of the email is more involved than a transactional request, reply the same day with a full response answering any questions or requesting more time. If you need more time be courteous and commit to a full response within a specified time frame.
5) Deciding who to carbon copy (Cc) - Generally you should copy anyone involved with the content of the email. If the nature of the email is confidential or sensitive you may exclude some people but I recommend you call or have a conversation in person and avoid this type of email. If you are replying back and forth on an email string only Cc someone that should have been on the original email, is joining the topic, or can contribute to a resolution. If you Cc someone several replies into a string, call the new person to explain the history of the topic.
6) Escalating - Ideally you should discuss the topic of escalation with your team or manager and come to an agreement on how to handle matters internally that could become a conflict. If a process does not exist then your first course of action regarding conflict is to try to resolve it on your own by meeting with the person or people you are having a challenge with. If you can not resolve the conflict, then share the challenge and your efforts with your manager. From that point leave it in your manager's hands and take no further action unless asked to. Be sure to ask your manger to explain what you can expect to be done and what time frame he or she will take action.
7) Committing to help each other - The goal is to get along, have fun and be a productive team. If the overall spirit of your team supports this, then agreeing to help each other by following these expectations consistently can only help strengthen communication.