Should Email be banned at work?

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This topic contains 23 replies, has 14 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 6 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #157870

    Jerry Rhoads

    Talk about a radical idea, banning email at work. I ask because I am personally noticing folks are using it as a way to throw a “Hail Marry” Pass. Have you ever asked a co-worker or direct report if they have followed up on a request, only to be told “I sent an Email”. ATOS, a European company of 50,000 is doing is banning internal email. They [ATOS] are using Instant Messaging as a means to replace Email. The company still uses Email for external customers.

    What do you think? Ban Email? Limit Email? Keep it the same?

  • #157916

    Mark Hammer

    I don’t know that outright banning is required, but I can see where it could be a useful “cleansing” to aim for direct verbal or paper communication for a bit, every now and then; an “e-mail vacation”, as it were.

  • #157914

    Corey McCarren

    Email can still be necessary for sharing documents and the like. I agree with the instant messaging, but I think there’s a larger problem when email is such an issue that it needs to be cut completely from the internal operations of an organization. I always personally check with co-workers to see if they’ve received important documents because some people get an awful lot of emails and there’s always the chance it could get lost in the mix.

  • #157912

    Jerry Rhoads

    I would agree, use it as a follow up tool for a person to person conversation. Also it is a good to send files, or links to file located on a share.

  • #157910

    Jerry Rhoads

    I agree, there is a larger problem at foot. I think by limiting Email, or by using it to follow up on conversations –it may stay a useful tool. Right now, my co-workers look it as a dreaded task, 100’s of emails a day –things get lost to the white noise of email.

  • #157908

    Henry Brown

    Instead of banning or limiting Email train the users on how to use this tool to be more productive. And IMO the solution is NOT to replace it with IM, suspect that one will end up with the same issue(s). I have been around long enough to have observed the mind set that “we” will solve the problem of spending all day on the phone by giving everyone Email which just shifted the problem the problem to another medium…

    Some organizations that I have been associated with, include all tools that are available(phone, teleconferencing, email, IM, and printers) to insure that most employees are using all the tools available to them for maximum productivity.

  • #157906

    Jerry Rhoads

    Training the users is a good idea, but who should do this? Is it an IT function to teach this “Communication” Skill?

  • #157904

    Henry Brown

    Depends on the enviornment. Have seen power users conduct much better training (and the reverse is also true) In some cases where the power users are co-located there is a certain advantage to the power user conducting the training in that there MIGHT be an addditional level of trust between the “student” and the instructor. Another plus MIGHT be that the co-worker/power user will generally be available for additional training as required.

    In the case of the IT department conducting this training, GENERALLY, they are better qualified to teach and MIGHT have a better grasp of the subject.

  • #157902

    Jerry –

    From your question, it seems that tracking and accountability are the key issues. Personally for ATOS, I don’t see the difference or benefit in what they are doing, but then I don’t use instant messaging. If an agency is using an in-house, mainframe system, Microsoft and others produce email applications (i.e. Outlook, Winmail). Tracking and accountability then become a non-issue as the system saves and maintains the logs of communications. Delivery and read reciepts are useful, but the reciepient has to acknowledge the read reciept, and we all know how that can be overlooked, intentionally or otherwise. One municipality that I worked for purchased a software application for tracking projects and workorders. It allowed for text messages and maintained a chronography of actions. Excellent for public relations when clients, or citizens in the case of municipal government, call and want to know the status of a project or their request. Regardless of the system used, government agencies still have the issue of FOIA and being able to track and recall messages.

  • #157900

    David Dejewski

    Email has a valid place. Social media boards (like milBook) can be more powerful in situations where sharing and version control are issues. We used it successfully to reduce more than 60% of email traffic. I think tools like this will capture some of email’s market share over time.

    I have a friend – a former supervisor, now retired after a long and successful career – who used to say:

    “Never respond to email. Every time you do, they multiply.”

    He also subscribed to the idea of declaring Email Bankruptcy from time to time.

  • #157898

    Jerry Rhoads

    I guess we need to figure how to make it useful again. To me (and some others) email seems to be more of a nusance than a productivity tool. Granted I do get things accomplished with it, however I find myself using the phone and walking over to folks.

  • #157896

    Jerry Rhoads

    I wonder if it were effective in increasing productivity?

  • #157894

    To the contrary, communications media would be expanded to increase employees’ opportunties to keep abreast of project developments. Banning a medium, such as email, is the equivalent of banning Facebook or Twitter from social networking. The idea is to improve communications not hinder them. In the theoretical example of an employee deilverring a report, the responsibility of ensuring reception of the report lies with the sender. Banning email would only occur if the medium becomes an unreliable transport from sources such as SPAM, which already accounts for somewhere in the area of 75-80% of all email.

  • #157892

    Melinda Davey

    I use my e-mail inbox as a to-do list. When I finish an item, I delete it or file it away. If I just had instant messages, I think it would be harder to keep track of everything.

  • #157890

    Keena Cauthen

    People need to be taught how to use e-mail, so that it is not the primary means of communication but carries important information needed long term (however long that length is). I use person-to-person contact a majority of the time, but if I need to get the same information to a group of folks and it’s a limited amount of straight-forward info, then I use an e-mail. If there is a chance there will be queries from it, then it’s a group meeting, followed by the e-mail with the results of the meeting. E-mail is definitely a tool that I wouldn’t want to see go away, as it serves a very useful purpose when used right. I only send about an e-mail a day that is work related. (jokes and conversations with friends and family outside of work are not included — and for those not at work, e-mail is the only way to get me as I’m away from my desk so much and get no cell phone reception.) That being said, we have moved to Instant Messaging at my office and I have found, in my unscientific research, that this more than anything hinders productive work. I even find myself IM’ing someone instead of picking up the phone, because I see that they are at their desk and I justify the use of the IM instead of the phone by saying my question is asked and they can answer when they get a moment… but then sit there watching or waiting for their answer and wondering what is taking them so long, its only a simple question. If I had called, no wait, no fuss… I’d know if they could answer right away or if I should move on and get back to that later. Also, folks here are using it as a means of chatting, gossipping, and otherwise doing non-work-related items because unlike the phone, they can’t be overheard and no one can ‘prove’ that they aren’t working. The idea I guess is if they are on the phone, it’s wasting time but if it’s on the computer, it’s not a problem. I disagree, but that’s me. I like the ability to know if someone is at their desk before I walk up to see them, but this can be done by using the phone too, so if the IM’s went away again, I’m not sure we’d be losing anything. Whereas if the e-mails went away, we’d be struggling to get information out to folks. IMHO only….

  • #157888

    Justin Longo

    Jerry, I find the discussion your post has generated to be really valuable. Part of my current research on technology and internal communication in government involved interviews with practicing policy analysts, and one of the questions centred on this: “what would be your reaction if the Deputy Minister said that they were banning internal emails and moving to a Facebook-like platform?” The way I explained a “Facebook-like platform” focussed on how conversations could happen in different streams: on your “wall” would be the open conversations that anyone in the organization could see and anyone could contribute to; there would also be instant messaging for minor interactions (“hey, can I get five minutes to discuss the Penske file?”); normal messages – which would essentially be email, but integrated into the overall corporate communications platform; and cloud file-sharing.

    A selection of a few of the interesting things that emerged from this question:

    • I made a mistake in using the word “Facebook”. Once we got past the sometimes visceral reaction to Facebook as a time-waster and toy for teenagers, we could focus on the features of a tool like it. I should have used an example like Salesforce Chatter, Socialtext, Socialcast, Yammer, OneNote – anything that didn’t divert attention away from the substance of the question.
    • Once we got back on track, there was cautious receptivity to such a system, with – of course – a range of positions. Some respondents felt that email helped them be really productive and couldn’t imagine doing their work without it; the comments on your post reinforce this. And we should always keep in mind why email is so pervasive: it’s easy to use.
    • Generally, respondents felt that there were problems with email and would appreciate a way of addressing those problems. The principal problems identified were: being overwhelmed with too many emails; and related, that email was a way for other people to shift a burden from the sender to the receiver(s) (a low cost action on the part of the sender with a high negative externality imposed on the receivers, as Derek Thompson’s article notes). This relates to your “Hail Mary pass” idea, Jerry: if I send an email asking someone if they’ve done something, I feel like I’ve done something. That can be a step in a process of actually doing something, but can also give a feeling of relief since it’s now the receiver’s problem. (Much like the Hail Mary pass – man, the analogy gets better all the time!)
    • Some people liked the idea that, if they had answered a question in an email previously, that they could avoid having to answer the same question again from someone else if the second questionner could simply find the answer in an open conversation. This doesn’t guarantee that the second questionner will actually make the effort to find that pervious open conversation and will instead revert to the easy route (see the above point about email being easy and a good way of shifting a burden onto the receiver). For the new communications platform to work as intended, it is partly a technology problem (the easy part) but more importantly requires an organizational cultural shift (the hard part).
    • The public sector setting presents some challenges distinct from the private sector (like the Atos example, which is driven in part by the personality of its CEO). It could hinge on whether the whole organization (the government or company) has a cohesive culture, or whether the sub-units (the Ministry / Agency or division) has their own distinct sub-cultures which limit communication and collaboration between the silos. Is Atos Apple-like, i.e., with a strong organizational culture and a persuasive CEO? It seems so. But most governments I know of have very distinct sub-cultures with Deputy Ministers who are CEO-like but still must lead by consensus rather than fiat. Also, while protection of intellectual property in the private sector is crucial, confidentiality and information control / accountability in the public sector was at the root of most of the opposition to “Facebook-like platforms” in the interview respondents I spoke to.
    • There was widespread enthusiasm for SharePoint from respondents. This is encouraging (and is a dramatic change from when I worked in government five years ago). While the use of SharePoint is limited currently to file-sharing (i.e., the collaboration features in products like WorkSpace/Groove and OneNote were not operational), it’s a good start. One way to reduce the email budren is to stop using it as a document delivery mechanism.

    Thanks for opening up this discussion.

  • #157886

    John Richardson

    use your own smart phone….

  • #157884

    Savannah Brehmer

    I think this would greatly help what I see too many of us suffering from (myself included) – TME: too many e-mails.

    I hear the arguments for keeping it. I like the idea I heard a major VW office in the US uses – they shut down their e-mail exchange server during non-office hours.

    At least I hope people might seek to use the medium more effectively. See this great flow chart on whether or not to send an e-mail. I think some training on how to do it well could be wonderfully beneficial.

    I was impressed by a colleague who has a size limit for e-mails sent to his inbox. If it is too big, you get an e-mail back telling you to send a link to the large file. I think this would help reduce file duplication tremendously, and should become a standard practice.

    We are in an age of information, and the new challenge is effective information organization.

    One possible solution I’ve thought about is limiting e-mails sent and e-mails received per day to 20. Under that restraint, people might be more mindful about hitting the send button.

  • #157882

    Steve Ressler

    I agree – I think one simple thing is we need “Training on email” – it sounds silly but if that’s what most people spend their time on, why don’t we get training on it.

    For example, what is your agency’s email norms? How do you write good email? etc?

  • #157880

    Sherry Taylor

    I can’t say I read through this entire string, but I had mixed reactions:

    1) This is very generational. To younger people, email is not as popular as it is with older workers. I’m on the tail end of the boomers so I love new technology and use it frequently. But at work I see email as the “paper trail” for audit purposes. Our agency went to gmail and it’s advanced search features make it very easy to find old emails.

    2) Seems a trust issue. And if you don’t send the report by email, how do you send it in your organization? If you think it’s a “Hail Mary” pass, you can always check the date it was sent. Managing employees is a larger issue than emails.

    3) We use Google Docs to share collaboration documents, however the technology is not very advanced in it’s functionality, so we end up converting them back into Word or Excel, etc.

    4) Training should be done by your Talent Development aka Organizational Development folks. Having said that, we are using e-Training (Moodle) to do some of this basic training stuff, especially as it relates to IT stuff. Its been very effective here and well received.

    Sounds like there are lots of options.

  • #157878

    Jerry Rhoads

    So how do we make or re-make email into a useful tool? I get 100’s a day and many could have been a quick phone call or IM. Reading so many emails for me (and others) gets to be chore. How many of you go on vacation, only to spend the next two days catching up? Maybe the question shold have been ” IS there a way to make email more usedful”?

  • #157876

    Jerry Rhoads

    I agree, call first –email next!

  • #157874

    Jerry Rhoads

    hmm I like the idea, limit to 20 emails…..

  • #157872

    Jerry Rhoads

    I agree with the Hail Mary pass comment. So many times I hear ” I sent an email”. Then the next question is “Did you follow up”? Followed by “I will email him/her again”.

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