Do you remember the ‘good old days’? When you returned from a meeting and didn’t have to open your email to find dozens of unread messages? When the most used communication tool on your desk was your phone? When you knew what most of your company looked like by meeting them in real life, not simply from seeing their profile picture on social media? The common belief is that technology improves our lives and I wholeheartedly agree … up to a point. When you step beyond that point you have crossed the border into a land controlled by the email warrior. The email warrior is a fearsome creature to be avoided at all costs.
Email is a powerful tool: it allows messages to be delivered immediately; it sends the same message to multiple recipients; it keeps a record of all requests and responses; and it can even attach other files. Amazing vision when Ray Tomlinson invented it in 1971 (note, some people credit Dr. V A Shiva Ayyadurai from MIT as its creator, but he developed the first integrated email system in 1980). If you want the man with the vision, it’s Ray. But did Ray envisage a system that stopped people from talking to one another? A system that runs the risk of offending people by not having intonation (no, ;0) does not count)? A system that invades home and family life, and steals an average of 2.5 hours every working day (based on a recent UK poll)? If Ray was still with us today (sadly he passed away 2 years ago), I doubt he would be watching with great pride at how his baby has grown up. So, while we can’t turn back time (unless you’re Cher) and not have email – and nor would I want us to – correct email etiquette can help to control the beast.
A few simple guidelines
1. Don’t email colleagues late at night with messages they can’t respond to unless they’re at work - it could cause them concern and impact their sleep.
2. Think about who should action tasks and use cc for others for information.
3. Make sure the title of the email explains the topic clearly.
4. Don’t ‘reply to all’ unless everyone on the email needs to read your message.
5. Don’t swap a phone call or a face-to-face meeting for an email unless.
- You cannot get everyone together (remember the conference call).
- You need a written record.
- You need to forward on other information/attachments.
At Burrows, to ensure we don’t become so attached to our email that we forget what our colleagues look like, we hold a regular Good To Talk Day. For an entire day we ban the use of email, with a few minor exceptions. In the past we have had great feedback, not only from people who said they talked to each other more, but also from people who said they’d got so much more work done. Remember those 2.5 hours spent on email each day?
Ok, I should fess up. I say that we have regular GTTDs, but truthfully, we let this good practice slip a couple of years ago. However, the great news is that it is back! On May 2 we are reinstating the art of talking. So, if you feel that your work place is suffering from too many email warriors, why not give it a go? Ban email for a day!
Chief Operations Officer