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I'm in a new job at an university. I sit with three other colleagues in a room. The office location is new as well as the team composition. We recently got phones. The other three team members have rather organizing/marketing roles while I have a software development role. The other team members get a lots of calls within a day while I get barely one in a week. As there is no policy how to handle calls, I asked one colleague how I should handle incoming calls for him. He said that I can answer calls if I want to.

I don't mind answering calls, i. e. I don't have telephone phobia, but it really gets annoying as there is no option to answer the calls from my desk, i.e. I have to get up and walk to his desk. It is also a high level of distraction as my role requires focusing on a topic a lot. So my stance was not to answer calls at all. Recently an other colleague realized that I was in the room while somebody called and nobody answered. When he called back he said to the caller that I was in the room but too shy to answer the call. I got somewhat upset and told him after the call that I'm not a phone assistance.

I don't want to be badmouthed and handle the situation professionally. Should I get over myself and just answer calls?

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    Any reason why you're asking us instead of just talking to your regular manager about this? – Erik Nov 9 '18 at 9:57
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    For the reasons you have described above, every company I've been to, the developers and marketing folk have completely separate work-spaces. You say the 'team composition' is new; is there no option for you to sit elsewhere or with the other developers (if there are any)? – user34587 Nov 9 '18 at 10:03
  • @Erik Dude, talk to your manager is the answer to, like, 40% of our questions! Where would we be without them? ;) Also some problems can be solved without escalating, and I think this is one of them as well – rath Nov 9 '18 at 10:24
  • Do they have an answering machine connected to their phone? A "new phone" probably would. – Zorkolot Nov 9 '18 at 16:58
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    Is there any possibility the colleague was joking? Shyness doesn't seem like a serious excuse to justify why a call wasn't answered. I mean, if you can be 99% sure the call isn't for you and acting as a receptionist isn't part of your job description, it would be silly for you to pick up the phone just to say "Dave's not here." – AffableAmbler Nov 9 '18 at 21:05
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You're probably overthinking this - your colleague has said you can answer calls "if you want to" so they clearly aren't expecting you to answer their calls.

Given you have a different role from them anyway it's unlikely that you'd be of much assistance to the callers in any event. I'd say it's perfectly professional to ignore the calls if you're busy with your own work. A voicemail box would do the same job as you answering so might be worth looking into whether the phone system can support this.

  • I agree that because OP has a totally different role it doesn’t really make a difference, if OP or an answering machine answer the calls. – Simon Nov 9 '18 at 19:25
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At the end of the day it's up to your manager to decide if you should take on the duties of a phone assistant.

At the same time their decision should be an informed one, so if you think it will impact you, you should lead the discussion with how to avoid having to do that.

Make sure your manager knows the impact this has on your work, and be ready to present an alternative, like answering machine service, or to reroute the call to reception after some time.

As a software guy myself I would resent the constant interruption and do everything in my power to change that; even people talking on the phone has had a huge impact in my work in the past, because it interrupts my train of thought.

With all that in mind, my advice is to keep dodging the phone unless your colleague acts like he expects you to answer it; in which case you escalate to management. If you want to set expectations properly (and I suggest that you do), you should let your colleague know that the phone will normally go unanswered because you're busy.

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There are several things going on here.

  • Missed calls can be bad for business. It is worth considering that if you are the only person available maybe you should consider answering the call. (But it still seems you don't have to.)
  • There may be a reason that your colleague felt the need to explain you were in the room but didn't answer the phone. The person on the other end might have been fishing for an explanation or your colleague might have been trying to make a joke to break the ice.
  • Weigh the situation. I began my career in a back-end role with poor communication skills. No one wanted me answering phones and interacting with customers even if I was the only option. It is also worth noting that you find the phone distraction can damage your focus. This is understandable and worth considering when making your decision. (Although wouldn't the constant ringing be a distraction too?)
  • Lastly, I believe that the crux of your problem was what your colleague said. Try talking to them. Perhaps explain that you don't like being characterized as shy (or characterized at all.) Or that you don't appreciate being discussed while present (this is after all typically considered rude.) Or perhaps you took offense to it being somehow implied that you broke a minor obligation to answer the phone even though you aren't explicitly expected to do it and are technically allowed to ignore calls.

That can be addressed in a brief conversation with said colleague.

Hey SoAndSo, I just wanted to mention the other day it kinda bothered me when you told [person X on other line] that I ignored their call and that I did it because I am shy. I think the way you said it made me look bad and I'd appreciate it if you didn't do that.

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Do not, never ever ask for another phone or a possibility to answer his phone easier. You will badly regret this if you got pulled out of your thoughts a couple of times and realize you now are established as his answering machine.
This starts with "tell him to call me back" and go on like "please tell him I did x for project y because z" which you have to note and hand to your colleague. Your work will suffer from it and later noone wants to hear you played secretary often and wasted not only the phone time but much other time too because you had to start thoughts again and again.

It's not your phone, not even your business field, you can't even help the caller.

Instead actively show you are not happy with the situation before others decide what you have to do. Suggest improvements like

  • your colleague turns down the volume if he is not at his desk.
  • redirecting calls to someone suitable if he is not present.
  • an answering mechanism that takes calls and forwards information about calls to your colleague without a person interfering
  • a general company wide awareness for this situation. Probably you are not the only one affected. Then they can't start talking dumb about you.
  • for internal calls a company wide awareness that someone not answering for 3 rings probably will not answer the next 20 rings too. Yes this sounds trivial but it may be a surprise for many of them.
  • make people (internal and external) know this person is rarely at his place so better write emails to him.
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You've basically answered your own question

You can either get up and answer the calls.

Or continue to ignore and potentially get bad mouthed. This doesn't make sense to me as it means you're being distracted by the call as it is so you may as well just answer it.

Your final option is to ask your manager on the correct process here. Potentially they can get you a phone at your desk in which you can remote to and pick up others' phone calls.

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