Balance using your e-mail project management tool with talking one-on-one to key people, but beware of overdoing talking in person.
I spent many years working remotely from my teams and from my internal customers. While I e-mailed continuously and talked on or ran teleconferences regularly, it made a huge difference to periodically call or visit and talk directly to an individual. These discussions were especially effective because I did it so infrequently. When I did call on someone, they would often make it a priority to set time aside to talk with me. This periodic one-on-one discussion made the e-mail flow with these key folks much more effective.
That for me at least, this one-on-one worked well because it did NOT happen all the time. I’ve known many folks who just had to talk with me one-on-one (phone or in person) for every little matter. These were almost always time wasters. While I hear periodically the need for one-to-one time, I know from experience (and at least one ACM/IEEE reported study I’ve read – though I’ve lost the reference) that face-to-face is often not the most task oriented and quality generating approach.
I had one product manager who would always call me on the phone, and if he could not reach me, say “Bruce, call me.” No message. No information I could act on so that when I contacted him back I could provide him with what he needed. I finally realized that this was part of his tactic. He didn’t always want an answer immediately. Instead, he just wanted to report who he had tasked with getting answers or taking actions. I broke the code on his approach by noticing that each time someone had an immediate answer for him, he was often annoyed. He was happy, practically bubbly, though when other folks said they would get back to him with what he needed.
Talking one-on-one with people periodically will help reduce the infoglut and will improve the quality of the subsequent e-mail communications with these same people. However, don’t overdo it. Use your e-mail or voice mail messages to clearly and concisely provide information and to get your needed actions. This helps both parties balance the effectiveness and efficiency of e-mailing and talking one-on-one.