We need to talk: We have a problem with emails

Hannah Sims · 09 Dec

We send too many emails and spend too long answering them. Is the solution to ban them altogether?

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We spend a lot more time on interpersonal relationships than we do on actual tasks, and email is a mammoth proportion of this communication.

The scary facts

  • We spend on average 2.25 hours on texts and emails. That’s slightly less time than we spend in meetings (2.44 hours).
  • According to the Harvard Business Review emails take up 23% of everyone’s time, and we send or receive around 112 a day. Whichever stat is closest to the truth, the numbers are undoubtedly high.

Why?

Email gives the illusion of being pressing- direct questions ('have you done this?' 'Where is this?' 'What is that?') instill us with the compulsion to answer, where actual work doesn't demand our input so directly, or instantly.

Email also gives us a satisfying feeling of productivity - each message is seen as a small task dealt with and quite literally sent away- or even deleted. We’re motivated by small tasks that can be done easily.

Trouble is, it's getting silly.

Emails are wasting our time, sapping our energy and even making us counterproductive.

The solution?

More and more companies are swapping email for faster, less formal IM services: Skype messenger, or Facebook messenger or Whatsapp or Slack- depending on the size and formality of the workplace.

What it means is that, unless we're asleep, we’re pretty much always on. Think about it: how many of these do you check every day?

Facebook
Whatsapp
Snapchat
Text
Emails
Reddit
Twitter
Instagram.

That's a long list, and only the tip of the iceberg. Being tuned in to so many channels of communication is exhausting. Is it time to start reducing the hours spent on the least responsive, the least mobile-friendly, and the most time wasting of these?

News flash! Ok not fresh news, but still very interesting. 

Atos Origin, a tech services company based in France, successfully banned emails in 2011. It has since seen a significant increase in productivity, and best of all, employee stress levels have come down.

IM services were still used by employees and overall, email was reduced by 60%.

The results? Banning email didn’t hinder the company - if anything, it helped employees become more productive.

The operating margin of the company increased from 6.5% to 7.5% in 2013 and admin costs went down by 2%.

And then.. in May 2016 the French government pushed through the 'El Khomri' law, that officially bans work emails after hours. Felicitations, France! Though the stories were exaggerated by the English press, the measures essentially give people ‘the right to disconnect’ at the week end and after 6pm. The server shuts down and emails sit in the outbox until morning so no colleague feels pressure on receiving an email late at night.

Sound a bit extreme? Well, there are some provisos. Employees can be encouraged to send/ receive mail at set times of day, and instant messenger systems and talking face to face are still allowed. Phew.

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So it seems the studies and stats are overwhelmingly in favour of ditching email.

Email R.I.P.

But before we reach for the most responsive, fastest communication mode possible instead, spare a moment for your employees’ health.

Is it healthy to be always switched on?

And, if we all switch off at 6pm like the French, what does this mean for the possibility of flexible working?

Maybe there’s a happy, flexible medium that works for your company?

Until then, bring back the carrier pigeon.

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