Clive Thompson writes about the growing body of evidence about the negative impact of electronic messaging
on workplace productivity. Not only has the smartphone extended the
working week to something like 75 hours for the US workers in a recent
survey, but some daring experiments suggest that when limits are put on
electronic messaging (for example, a ban on out-of-hours emailing), that
productivity and quality of work soars – along with the happiness and
quality of life of workers (these two phenomena are related). Some
businesses have banned electronic messaging altogether, requiring
workers to physically traverse their workplaces and exchange vibrating
air molecules in order to coordinate their activities.
And worse… with all of the email we are still failing to get work done more efficiently. The money quote
“Genuinely important emails can propel productive work, no doubt, but a lot of messages aren’t like that—they’re incessant check-ins asking noncrucial questions, or bulk-CCing of everybody on a team. They amount to a sort of Kabuki performance of work—one that stresses everyone out while accomplishing little. Or, as the Center for Creative Leadership grimly concludes: “The ‘always on’ expectations of professionals enable organizations to mask poor processes, indecision, dysfunctional cultures, and subpar infrastructure because they know that everyone will pick up the slack.”
Exactly. How many times have you heard that you must have agreed to something because “I cc:ed you on that and you never replied, I assumed it was okay.” Well sure, but maybe it got lost in the hundreds of other worthless emails. And don’t get me started on using subpar tools (anyone collaborated on a Word doc with 10 authors via email lately?) and assuming people will just work harder.
I’m guilty, I suspect we all are. Moving to something better than a constant flood of email is hard and takes discipline. It also requires that the people at the top of the food chain are invested in the solution.