Walk into any major office building today and this is exactly what is often observed.
Sir Cary Cooper, a professor in organisational psychology and former advisor to the UK government on mental health in the workplace, suggested in a recent speech that “ …a compulsion to deal with the messages (in email) had caused the UK's employees to become less productive than many of their international counterparts” He went on to say, "For people to be working at night, weekends and holiday on emails is not good for the health of our country. We need to ban emails within the same building." Instead, he advocates face-to-face meetings and phone calls.
When I was running the operational side of an international business, I hated email. I had allowed it to set my daily priorities, continually interrupt me and completely overload me with one-way requests from our multiple offices around the world.
Here are three ideas of how I turned email from an enemy into a friend.
- Stop using email as a communication tool. Apparently only 17% of a message is in the words of the message so email is very poor at communicating deeper meaning or beliefs. Use email for factual information transfer only.
- Stop assuming email is real-time. Instead of constantly interrupting my focus and thought process away from my real priorities, by feverishly checking my inbox during meetings and in gaps while people were talking, I developed a habit of dealing with, and emptying my inbox at set times built into my diary. Face-to-face meetings, the phone, instant messaging, or even web-based collaboration tools are far better for time critical communications.
- Break the chain. Email communication is notorious for ping-pong activity where batting an issue back to the recipient with a counter request, seemingly removes the responsibility from you, back to them, without actually resolving the issue. I now attempt to close off any mail request in my response, calling a meeting if further discussion is needed.