Should You Call Or Should You Type?

It’s not even close, is it?

Try it for yourself.

Take a recent discussion you’ve had via instant messenger and say it out loud either by yourself or with a (patient) partner. Try to do this at a normal conversational speed.

We took a 30 minute one to one instant messenger discussion on Slack last week and read it out loud at normal conversational pace. It took 3 minutes.

That’s a big 27 minute difference.

If you have 7 working hours each day, that’s 6% of your day wasted. You can extrapolate your own company-wide costs and benefits here (cost per employee time, benefits of your team being 6% more efficient etc…).

It’s clearly quicker to say what’s on your mind than type it, wait for the other person to read it, write their reply, and then have them wait for you to read it etc…No surprises here.

But this changes as a group gets bigger. At around 5+ people, it’s usually quicker to use instant messenger. Multiple people can share and chime in with their opinion simultaneously. We can read quicker than we can listen.

Simple collaboration principles then.

1) If you’re making a simple request to a large group (where any recipient might have the information you need) instant messenger works as a great tool.

2) If you’re having a discussion with a group of 5+ people it may also make sense to go digital.

3) If you’re having a discussion with 2 to 5 people that extends beyond 3+ exchanges (via email, responses etc..) you should always call.

You might be surprised just how much time this simple tweak could help you.

p.s. Can you answer these 10 questions about collaboration?


  1. Rob Bosch says:

    You are only right if you look at the numbers. But we are talking community here, right? And community is people. IMO then numbers aren’t the only things that count.
    When typing you have a LOT of other advantages, like thinking over what you actually try to say, even rephrase during typing. Also reviewing afterwards can have big advantages.
    So (as a fan of written communication… :slight_smile: ) don’t dismiss writing too fast.

  2. Suzi Nelson says:

    I am so much better at typing than talking!

  3. Richard Millington says:

    Rob this refers to collaboration more than community. We’re branching out a little.

    I’m not dismissing writing at all. I spend most of my day doing it. But I am a fan of communicating as efficiently as possible when it comes to collaboration. The argument cuts both ways too. Written messages can lose their context, tone of voice, and emphasis on key words. Most of us build stronger relationships when we talk in person for example.

    Suzi i really doubt that :slight_smile:

  4. Joe Narusis says:

    Great point about how reading speed is faster than hearing. Here is a quick fact sheet about fast the average person can comprehend different forms of communication.

    Also, if you use a chat room for instant messaging then it is probably quicker to get new members up to speed about a topic or project as opposed to having a discussion. They can just read all of the previous messages which is usually fastest way to comprehend information.

  5. Mark Baldwin says:

    I would take this a step further and say that in this day and age a skype, google hangout or face time call is even better as you can read how a person responds to you. Visual feedback is something that most community managers miss out on, which is why I love it when I can actually meet people face to face.

  6. Nick Emmett says:

    Perhaps I’m stating the obvious but context of the conversation/discussion/topic surely also comes in to play here. If the length of the conversation doesn’t matter too much then I’d contend that using your digital channel(s) is fine, it also leaves you to continue working on other things at the same time.

    If it’s something that needs sorting in a specific time frame then a call/meeting would likely be more appropriate.

    Efficient communication is key to working well and remaining agile as a business, these days there is so much potential for organisations to have multiple channels of communication that sometimes it’s difficult for people to know which one to use in their circumstances. Being clear culturally about how to be efficient in your communication is vital to make sure that everyone in the organisation is on the same page.

  7. Rachael Reilly says:

    For me it totally depends on the person. For example when I work with Joe from SFDC we hop on a call and take 20 mins to go through what could take hours by email. There are other people though that I work more productively with by chat or email. It all depends on the work, your relationship with the person and how the two of you collaborate together.

  8. Sarah Hawk says:

    Time zones tend to dictate my communication method. It’s usually more efficient/productive for me to email or Slack my thoughts while I’m working on something than to wait for hours for a call.

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