Here's the most interesting workplace story of the week: Such companies as J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America are eliminating voicemail for some employees.

It would be great if the motivation is to improve communication. Unfortunately, that's not the case; the primary objective is to cut costs. Voicemail is really expensive: The Wall Street Journal reports that one J.P. Morgan unit spends $3.2 million a year on voicemail boxes for its 135,900 employees.

But if voicemail disappears, you may wonder: What happens if you try to reach an employee and he isn't at his desk? At J.P. Morgan, callers will get a generic message that says, "the person you're trying to reach is unavailable. Please try your call later."

So far, that's not advancing the ball to improve communication. But what if we treated the end of voicemail as a new beginning?

For too long, communication at work has been largely one-way. First came the paper memo (which, luckily, you're too young to remember), delivered via interoffice mail. Then the phone, which began as a way to talk to one another, but with the advent of voicemail, degraded to a game of phone tag. Finally, email and its evil twin, instant messaging.

Technology has changed, but the principle hasn't: It's still based on sending, not conversing. We've been conditioned to deliver a message the same way Roger Federer serves a tennis ball: fast and with a wicked topspin. We're really hoping that we're so effective at propelling our ball over the net that our opponent (um, I mean, coworker) won't be able to return it.

It's time for a new approach, one that promotes dialogue above all else. The idea is simple: sending messages should be reserved only for quickly providing a piece of information. For any issue that needs to be thought about, analyzed, negotiated, and worked through, you set up a conversation. You don't need to schedule a hour-long meeting; usually, 10 or 15 minutes will do.

Talking solves problems faster. It avoids confusion. And it build relationships.

As the late great Joan Rivers would say: Can we talk?

Published on: Jun 5, 2015
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