How did the world function before email? Younger readers of this post will have a hard time answering this question.
How did the world function before email?
Younger readers of this post will have a hard time answering this question. Even the less young ones, like Michael*, a 50-year-old salesman with Grapheme Interactive, a London advertising agency have a difficult time replying. Yet, the volume of email he receives makes his workday a nightmare. And it has the same effect on his colleagues and partners.
The world of advertising is hectic. At Grapheme Interactive, everyone complains about being over-stretched. The pressure is immense, especially since the agency has lost a lot of pitches recently to small, hyper-reactive agencies. Michael does not like this situation and he feels that he can't stop working for even a minute. Fortunately, he has a long weekend coming up to look forward to.
09:00 Michael arrives at the office stressed. Not only did he have to commute standing all the way in the crowded underground, but also the email he was reading on his phone before the network cut out was bad news. He realized that instead of reading this email, he should have taken a good book. But like 79% of European executives, he can't help but consult his professional mailbox outside of office hours.
As soon as Michael got to his office, he indulged in his favorite quirky addictions to calm his nerves: Downing a few whiskies (to the great annoyance of his colleagues but as he says, "we work in advertising") and he fires up his inbox. In an ideal world, Michael would chew gum and, with his diary and a pencil in his hand, he would set his goals for the day, before even thinking about turning on his computer. But those days are gone. At 09:30, Michael's already drowning in a mass of emails that need answering.
10:00 Friedrich, Michael's boss, is preparing a pitch on a tender that can save the agency's financial quarter. He remembers that Michael had sent him key information some time ago, and calls him to ask him to resend it. If this information had been transmitted via a collaborative tool, Michael could have tracked it down in a flash. But at Grapheme Interactive, everything is done by email. Poor Michael is reduced to searching his outgoing emails. And there are a lot of them. He can't find the info until 11:00. Both Michael and Friedrich’s productivity took a hit. And it also created a lot of unnecessary stress.
11:00 - 12:00 Michael needs an explanation about one of the clauses of a contract signed by the Manchester subsidiary. Instead of calling his fellow lawyer, he sends him an email. As the question is a bit complicated, a ping-pong match ensues. However, it would have been so much easier to call or organize a videoconference. Mid-day scores: Productivity 0 - stress 1.
12:00 - 14:00 Michael has lunch with a client, Iain. During lunch, his phone keeps vibrating. Michael keeps glancing at his screen instead of looking at Iain. As he is distracted and only half listening, he misses key signals that should have alerted him to the fact that his client’s satisfaction was on a downward spiral. But Michael is somewhere else, thinking about other clients, other cases. His mind is all over the place. Iain leaves the restaurant irritated to say the least by Michael's lack of attention.
14:00 - 15:00 After lunch, Michael has trouble getting down to work. Sending personal emails plays a big part of his "lunch break", alongside the inevitable social media updates. Michael also finds himself opening email that is marked as "spam". Unsurprisingly, there are many spam messages - 80% of email received in companies is spam. Conscious of procrastinating, guilt gets him back in the saddle. He starts by sending simple emails to his colleagues. Doing that has little added value, but gives him the feeling that he is doing something useful and easing back into work. It’s the perfect example of active procrastination or the art of productivity being applied to unimportant, secondary tasks.
15:00 - 17:00 Michael puts the final touches on a PowerPoint presentation on which Friedrich is working. Unable to stop himself from answering email every time there’s a notification, it has been slow progress. It's no surprise when you know that an office employee is interrupted or changes tasks on average every three minutes, and that it can take up to 23 minutes to pick up the thread of what they were doing before the interruption.
Michael's presentation is finally ready. Rich in images and animations, it is a very big file. However, that does not stop Michael from sending it to his boss in the form of a "reply to everyone", filling up the inbox of many people who did not need to see it. The result: The internal network is congested and mailboxes are put over quota. Many Grapheme Interactive employees stop receiving important email from their customers because of it. Thank you, Michael...
18:00 Michael prepares his activity report for his manager before leaving on his long weekend. To do this, he has a tried and tested technique: He searches through his sent emails to work out everything that he did during the week. In the end, his report is two pages long, with the important and the everyday put on the same level, with no differentiation. Friedrich has no clear idea of what Michael has done, nor of the progress he has made on projects or what remains to be completed.
When Michael gets home, he's thinking about his day. He feels that he has done a lot of hard work, but his satisfaction is tinged with regret because he realizes that he has not made enough progress on his projects. There is no doubt that he did not take into account the time and energy being spent on email – a source of stress and reduced productivity. Exhausted, he is looking forward to the weekend ahead - even if he knows that he won't completely disconnect. Managers read an average of 29 emails over the weekend and send 19 emails. Michael is resigned to the fact that he cannot escape that, however hard he tries.
If an employee's volume of emails measures something, it is certainly not their productivity. At the end of the day, it is an indicator of activity. It is above all a reflection of the level of dysfunction in the employee's organization, the project management, management and, often, the technical solutions implemented. Email has great value in the customer relationship, for meeting minutes, social links and the like. But it's quality that counts, not quantity. Especially since today’s technology offers tools that are much better suited to these other tasks (video conferencing, chat, collaborative spaces).
*The names, people and businesses mentioned in this article are all fictional and any similarity to any person or organization is entirely coincidental.
I have a theory that communication and collaboration tools can reduce unconscious bias and increase inclusion in the workplace. Twenty-plus years ago, before the internet was democratized and made available to everyone, we used to meet face-to-face or experience long delays in getting a response to our ideas.
Unified communications and collaboration (UCC) has changed the way I think about business. There’s no other way to say it. Because of how digital platforms have evolved over the past 20 years, we are all able to work smarter.
Agile and DevOps methodologies speed up the continuous development and delivery of workable software, and verbal communication is critical for these processes.
A few years ago, Gartner research found that some 80% of investments in collaboration technology failed to deliver the results expected of it.
Connectivity between systems naturally produces economic efficiencies. When you can tap into data from a range of different platforms and generate new insights...
Some of my favourite scenes from the film Iron Man are the ones that showcase the relationship Tony Stark has with Jarvis.