So much of what we do in the creative industry is about relationships. Emails, calls, meetings, time in the trenches together—these are all part of the balancing act to find a good groove between client and agency. And 2014 technology really does rule the day for this process – there are more ways than ever for collaboration to take place, all enabled by the ever-widening digital landscape of tools at our disposal. From Basecamp to Asana, to Dropbox and Jing, we use these tools as integrated parts of our workflow internally and externally – even email is still a useful part of that (mostly) efficient pipeline. When these tools work, it’s a beautiful, superhero-like experience—we spend less time trying to get to the work (the quagmire of meetings and check-ins), and instead we just get to enjoy the work itself.
But sometimes these tools don’t work the way we want and we find ourselves slogging through reading (or worse, writing!) lengthy, complicated emails or translating cryptically worded less-than-one-sentence responses. Then everything grinds to a halt, while everyone on the receiving end reacts and the sender ponders on whether they’ve been appropriately understood. This kind of situation is not only the antithesis of productivity, but it’s also the biggest challenge we continually face as humans in a digital-age: remembering that there are humans on the other end of all that technology.
The solve is remarkably beautiful in its simplicity, and relies on that age-old technology we’ve started to take for granted: the telephone. When you find yourself in one of these digital quagmires with your clients, your agency, or even your colleagues), you can start by picking up the phone and having a real conversation:
- You’ve got feedback that is more than just a few sentences on a piece of creative. Sure, write your thoughts down and send them over. But follow up with a call to be sure your points are clear and more importantly, to talk through your agency’s recommendation for proceeding with your feedback in mind.
- You’re thinking about sending an email that has no punctuation, other than exclamation points and multiple question marks (and would probably be written in caps). If you’re that upset about something, take a quick walk around the building and then make a phone call. Talking through whatever has caused you to react this way will go a long way toward solving the problem, instead of just rehashing the issue.
- You’re in a hurry. No, really. If you have something important to share with your team, make a call. Sending a cryptic email just to say it’s now in someone else’s court to fix doesn’t make the progress that you’re ultimately looking to see. Why waste more time?
- You’re confused. When you don’t understand something that’s been provided over email, sending another email won’t magically demystify the situation. Better to play a round or two of phone tag to ensure you get the clarity you need than trade more emails…and more confusion.
- When things seem less than harmonious. Creative teams are passionate about their work and their experience — and clients equally so. As a result, sometimes digital communications stray into that uncomfortable territory that feels like a dive-bomber unleashing its payload—and often it’s unintentional or misinterpreted. When the tone of an email starts to pick up that prickly vibe, make a call to sort it out.
Even with all of our advanced collaborative tools and sometimes hilarious humanity, the MM team needs these reminders too. In the spirit of a little analog balance, we dug up our old Hamburger phone for situations just like the ones above. We’ve even agreed on a code word for those moments when there’s uncertainty about how to proceed in a potentially tense communications situation (predictably, it’s Hamburger). Regardless of what kind of telephone you choose, the ten minutes you spend talking through a challenging or confusing situation with the other human on the end of the line could be the best investment you make in your relationship over the long-term, on top of helping your teams get back to the stuff we all love to do—good work with fun people.
Holy humanity, batman.