digital world, email illustrates synchrony of communication

Synchrony and Asynchrony: Running the Business

I found this article quite interesting; I was a professional long before email became a “thing.” I remember the interoffice memos and letters, both internal and external to the company. We didn’t have the pneumonic tubes that Cal Newport talks about in the article, but we did have “runners” who went department to department and building to building to get important messages to the right group(s).

Oh the yellow interoffice envelopes! Oh the triplicate documents! File cabinets were certainly a required office tool in those days as this was the only way to keep copies of what we sent. Filing was actually part of some peoples’ jobs, and these folks spent many hours filing, categorizing, etc. If you started in a company at this level, your future was often determined by how good of a document filer you were or how fast you could retrieve an important document! 

Sometimes we were able to “hide behind” the fact that these communications were slow and did not arrive before making decisions or moving forward. This was kind of like the strategy with check float; it could take a couple of days to a week before a letter was received and so the boss could take advantage of the delay. 

We had phones of course (I’m not THAT old!) for synchronous communication, but they weren’t installed in every area and certainly not on every desk. Video conference calls or even non-video conference calls did not exist – making a phone call meant calling a specific person, who often had a secretary or assistant that you had to navigate through. We kept a list of phone numbers by every phone, and in some cases the list was pretty long! Later, we had a separate speaker gadget box-thing that connected to the phone that allowed the caller to be heard in a conference room. Now, speakers are integrated into the phone itself.

I once worked as receptionist for a large company, and I would get the calls and “connect” the caller to whomever they wanted to speak to. I had a big 3-ring binder with all the phone numbers in the company and my speed at finding the numbers and connecting callers was pretty good. Can you imagine working through a receptionist these days – of course not – you have all the numbers in your cell phone that you just touch and dial!

Communicating synchronously has certainly changed the way my corporate businesses and personal business has worked.

What memories and experiences do you have before email, MS Teams, instant messaging, etc.? How has the workplace changed for you?