Coca-Cola disconnects voicemail for employees

Sick of those long-winded messages? The soft drink giant says most people get around voicemail, and the decision to end it will simplify work.

You’ve probably been guilty of it, and you’ve probably been annoyed by the practice: leaving longwinded voice mails.

You know the genre. The uncertain greeting. (“Uh, hi.”) The explanation of something the caller couldn’t possibly know. (“You’re probably out at lunch [or in a meeting or on the phone].”) The three-minute monologue before the caller bothers to rocket through an unintelligible call-back number.

Even if you haven’t experienced this, somebody in a corner office at Coca-Cola evidently has. The world’s largest beverage bottler has shut down voicemail “to simplify the way we work and increase productivity,” according to an internal memo quoted by Bloomberg.

“Landline voicemail is increasingly redundant now that smartphones are ubiquitous and texting is as routine as talking,” Bloomberg reports.

Schizophrenic oldsters

Bloomberg quotes a professor type who says that “people north of 40 are schizophrenic about voicemail,” whatever that means. On the other hand, “People under 35 scarcely ever use it,” the boffin says.

The decision will save about $100,000 a year, a drop in the beverage bucket for the cola colossus, which has a market capitalization of $188 billion. The move has more to do with simplifying work than trimming costs, Coke says.

Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology said in an email to that it won’t be the last time a company jettisons voicemail.

Voicemail was always cumbersome but in the absence of other methods, it served its purpose. Today, between email (which is also outliving its usefulness), text-messaging, and collaborative workspaces, there really is no need for voicemail any more. It’s a great move from Coca-Cola, which is leveraging the utility of texting to replace it.

He points out a 2012 Crain’s Chicago Business article that noted the trend away from voicemail. One source cheerfully told Crain’s, “Our system pushes voicemail to our BlackBerrys, so you don’t have to even pick up your landline to get the message.” (Read: Work will hunt you down anytime, anywhere.)

Call me a schizophrenic, north-of-40 type, but it seems there’s potential for phones ringing and ringing on desks, never answered, just as they did in the small-town newsroom where I started out in the 1980s. Plus, those of us with fat thumbs and bad eyesight hate text messaging.

But no hip, new-generation workplace is going to send a staffer to shadow me for a day to pick up communications tips. I’m the guy who forgets to forward his phone when working at home. Then again, most people hang up and tweet or email me instead—perhaps proving Coke’s point.

‘9 awful stages’

In contrast to us workplace Neanderthals, BuzzFeed offers a more with-it approach in one of those lists with badly capitalized titles “The 9 Awful Stages Of Getting A Voicemail.” But really, don’t bother to click unless you are south of 35 and the kind of person who guffaws at knock-knock jokes. (“1. Confusion. What is that funny little symbol… OH MY GOD. NO! NOOOOOOOOOOO!”). The list does feature cat photos.

Whichever side you favor on the voicemail question, Holtz offers a broader communication suggestion. In a lot of organizations, voicemail is just built into the telecommunications system and nobody thinks about its usefulness, he says.

“Then again, most companies don’t manage messaging at all,” he says. “They introduce technologies and leave employees to their own devices to figure out how to use it. That is, there is no culture of messaging and nobody is responsible for it; there is no ‘message mission control.'”

Somebody had better raise this issue with the bigwigs. Phone your VP and leave a voicemail, why don’t you?


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