Opinion: When did it become normal to schedule our phone calls?


If you were born before 1995, the chances are that you remember the days when if you worked in an office you had your own dedicated desk, telephone, extension number and a plethora of post-it notes stuck on your PC monitor, asking you to call whatshisname back.

Sounds so quaint now, doesn’t it?

Back then, when the phone on your desk rang, you answered it, in blissful ignorance of who was on the other end.

It might be that one person you’re desperate to speak to regarding your current project, it might be your mate arranging drinks after work, or it might be the person you’re desperately avoiding. It was a daily lottery.

Of course, if it was the latter you could answer in a novelty accent and say ‘you’ weren’t at your desk, or get your colleague to say you were out of the office.

But these halcyon memories of corporate life predate social media and the widespread ownership of mobile phones.

I’ve worked for myself for the majority of the last 16 years and in that time, the rise of smartphones has completely revolutionised the way we work.

Not least, that we can now see who’s calling us.

Gone is the lottery of who’s on the end of the phone; the frisson of excitement/dread of the unknown.

Now, our phones even flash up with a photo of the caller if they’re already in our WhatsApp contacts and calls are preceded by an email or text, checking if it’s a convenient time.

95% of my current phone calls are scheduled, particularly if it’s someone I’ve never spoken to before.

I’ll email or text to arrange a convenient time.

When did this happen?

I’m finding it hard to pinpoint, but I think it’s become more prevalent in the last six or seven years. And I’m here for it.

I think it’s coincided with everyone being available at all times – always at the end of mobile phone; no PA gatekeeping your calls, no colleague who can intercept the landline if you’re busy, no way to pretend it’s not you answering the phone.

If I’m in the middle of concentrating on a piece of work, I don’t want my train of thought to be interrupted by a phone call.

Likewise, if I’m in a meeting.

These days, if an unknown number flashes up, the likelihood of it being a voice asking “If you’ve recently been in an accident that wasn’t your fault” is much higher than of it being someone I actually want to speak to.

Also, working patterns are less predictable now. Just because you work the hours of dawn til dusk seven days a week, doesn’t mean everyone does. Flexible working means that the 9-5 could actually mean 7-3, but only on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

So by scheduling a call, you’re giving the person your undivided attention.

You’re ensuring the time is convenient for them too and giving them an opportunity to be prepared.

And it’s not interrupting your workflow.

This change might have crept up on me, but it’s something I’ve embraced without realising it.

I might occasionally miss the unexpected and unannounced call on a landline phone, but for the most part, unannounced phone calls are one less distraction in my already overcrowded day.

And finally, don’t even bother calling after 8pm unless it’s been previously agreed. What sort of a monster calls unexpectedly in the evening??


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