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E-mails: 10 ways they kill office productivity

27 Apr

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Technology has advanced greatly and has contributed to efficiencies aplenty. But like most things under the sun, it has two sides.

So in this article, I pick one side. Let us look at one of those impactful results of technology that have a subtle derailing flipside especially in terms of workplace productivity.

The e-mail.

This is one area of technological development that has made communication far much easier than the days of old. But it has also led to a knock on productivity simply because of how it is managed. Or perhaps how it manages those that use it.

Let us review 10 of such resultant areas.

1. A clogged mailbox

The modern day corporate environment is very e-mail intensive. A day or a few away from the office without connectivity leads to a flooded mailbox. This immediately means by the time you download mails, you are thrown into a catchup mode as you sift through to determine which ones need to be prioritised.

In essence, you are already thrown off and laying aside something else you perhaps ought to be doing which may well be more important.

2. A clean inbox?

Related to the clogged mailbox is an unmistakable urge to clear the mailbox. This happens one of two ways. Others prefer not to have any unread mails (I’m very much in this category… Unread mails give me a rash!!!). The other lot simply make it a point to clear their mailbox by archiving. Either way time is taken for each activity. This is time worth channeling towards some things more productive.

3. Management by “cc”

Everyone in the workplace seems to have an uncanny need to justify their value and contribution. There is one set of determined people that use the e-mail to achieve this end, knowingly or otherwise.

This is mainly done by always keeping your seniors in copy of mails you send even when all it does is clog their box with mundane daily issues. This distracts you and the recipient either way.

You want to prove you are working, “showing” that you are following through on actions or playing tough where necessary….in most cases to impress hence the need to copy your boss. On the other hand, the recipient depending on style or self worth will be under pressure to respond or show reaction so the boss notes that too.

The consequence of this is energy and effort all directed on non-value adding activities or issues driven by egotistic fuel. It takes tact and maturity to know what communication your boss needs be looped in.

4. Cut the walk

It is hard to determine whether e-mails have fuelled laziness or some just have just taken to abusing it. Simple things that in the past would be taken care of with ease and word of mouth now are flying via e-mail.

When someone needs a pen or stationery, they will send an e-mail even when the person to help is within the same office or building. People just won’t walk to desks or other offices any more. That is why we now see chasers on mails sent like “have you seen my e-mail?” And yet these will be to people in the same building.

5. Showcasing

E-mail has now become a documented weapon for some. We have those people that generate mails simply as a way of showing or creating an impression that they are working.

In some cases, this is also done as a means to expose others where they have lagged or got a foot wrong. One is therefore quick to capture this in an e-mail as a trophy of their hard work, vigilance and exposure of the other.

Depending on the seniors you have, it’s so easy to see through all this. More progress and learning can happen when people engage and exchange valuable conversations or insights on issues and experiences rather than a chain of e-mails to showcase oneself at the expense of another.

6. Enemy of accountability

There is another trend that seems to have diluted the sense of accountability. The lack of follow through.

It is not uncommon these days for one to send an e-mail and believe their part is done. When progress or the lack of it is questioned at some point, the perfect response is almost always that “I sent you an e-mail”. Sending an e-mail is not a guarantee that it will be read as a priority or looked at immediately.

So for anything time or delivery bound and dependent on that sent e-mail, following through is never such a bad idea. Both parties will and must be held accountable for delivery or the lack of it.

7. Glued to the workstation

As highlighted in point 4, people have simply cut off walking the floor. Most of us find ourselves rooted at our workstations punching away at the keyboard.

Even the simple discussions we would have including spontaneous brainstorming no longer happen much because our energies are largely expended on the impersonal e-mail. There is a lot of value to be derived from personal and informal engagement, many unconventional solutions found to some commonplace work issues too.

Take a break from those e-mails. Stroll around, pick up the phone and talk to people.

8. Stifling thoughts and ideas

When not handled professionally or without thought, e-mail can be detrimental to open communication.

There usually is a high likelihood for misunderstanding or reading a tone that is genuinely not there.

This then works to close out creativity, originality, flow of thoughts and ideas that people may want to bring out. Simply because a response will have sounded like a “shut up” cue. It therefore is critical that such a faceless mode of communication is used with clarity and tact so as to foster openness as may be required.

9. Decision and progress block

At times, decisions are held back and progress stalled. This is especially in cases where you have people that are poor when it comes to reading e-mails. Correspondingly when you also have people that are simply pathetic with following up where a decision and progress is dependent on a response.

All is delayed as long as it remains stuck in someone’s e-mail box. A call or walk to a desk, where possible, may be of more benefit than a simple e-mail without follow up.

10. Time

Simply put, an e-mail requires time to put together. If you are to be clear and also professional, there is some time needed to put one together. As a result, with all the e-mails that fly around in the workplace these days, a decent amount of time is spent on e-mails without full realisation of the impact.

What one can get done with a few spoken words will instead need some keyboard crunching and thinking. Quite some time to waste if it can be managed differently.

I have now deliberately started disconnecting my e-mails for certain portions of the day so I can spend time on other things my work demands. Failure to do this has posed a challenge as mails pop in at jet speed.

Is it not time you looked at how you are managing your e-mails or the converse? There may just be some time, energy and productivity saved there.

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