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Best Practice Tips: Choosing the Best Form of Communication

Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am the owner of a four-attorney firm in Indianapolis, Indiana. The firm has three associate attorneys, three paralegals, and three other staff members. One of my attorneys recently advised me that he wanted to do more work remotely. The next day I emailed him my thoughts and advised him that I would not let him work remotely. He then emailed me that he was giving me his two weeks’ notice. What should I have done differently?

A. You should have met with him personally and discussed the matter face to face. Email has its uses, but I find it is often overused and used in situations where it should not be.

Note the following scale of communication media and richness:

  • Face to face
  • Telephone
  • Email and texts

Face to face is the richest form of communication and should be used for sensitive communications such as performance reviews and other such discussions concerning performance, praise, training, and mentoring. It should have been used in the situation you discussed in your question.

Telephone is the second richest form of communication and should be used for less sensitive matters or for face-to-face situations discussed above when a face-to-face meeting is physically not possible.

Email, text, and other written communication should be used for routine matters such as assignment of projects and tasks and work instructions.

Sensitive and difficult communications should be communicated through a rich medium such as face-to-face meetings and routine communications through a lean medium such as a memo.

Media richness is determined by the speed the media provides, the variety of communications channels on which it works, the extent of personal interactions allowed, and the richness of language it accommodates. As tasks become more ambiguous, you should increase the richness of the media that you use.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at jolmstead@olmsteadassoc.com.

Posted on March 13, 2019 by Rhys Saunders
Filed under: 

Member Comments (2)

The facts of the question alone should provide the answer.  Why would you EMAIL the denial of an apparently face to face request to work remotely?  Or even if the request had been by phone or email.  The irony is rich.   

For me, the even bigger question is Why can't this employee work remotely? For an employee to come with that request, it was obviously something that was important. You had to make a decision about how much you value this employee to shut the idea down without an actual conversation. I'm not surprised the employem left at all. In fact, that's exactly what I would expect. If you value this employee at all, take the request seriously and have a conversation.