South-Western - Management  
Kicking the E-Mail Habit
Topic Communication
Key Words e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, workplace communication
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News Story

Scott Dockter, CEO of PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services in Alpharetta, Georgia, noticed that e-mail was becoming a crutch for his company and that people were spending less time interacting in person. So, he decided to make a change. At his company, Fridays are “no e-mail days.” With the exception of messages from outside customers, employees are not allowed to use e-mail. If they have something to say to someone they have to pick up the phone or get out of their seat and go visit in person. And Friday meetings have to be kept to fifteen minutes or shorter.

Dockter is not alone in feeling frustration with the way communication is handled in his office. More than 30 billion e-mails are exchanged throughout North America on any given day, up tenfold from 1998. Nearly half of the U.S. population is now e-mailing, far surpassing mail sent through the postal service. Add to that instant messaging and blogs and the workload of the American workforce doubles, along with their stress levels.

Nancy Flynn, author of “E-mail Management: 50 Tips for Keeping Your Inbox Under Control” says that a lot of people don’t get priority work done during core business hours because they are so busy responding to their overflowing in-box. A lot of people have lost the art of building and nurturing personal relationships as well because they do all their communication through e-mail. E-mail is a cold medium with no facial expression and body language. It’s very tough to network solely through e-mail.

At PBD worldwide, these problems were becoming unbearable. Dokter received about 150 e-mails a day, but his managers received about 300 to 400 daily e-mails each. E-mails were coming at all times of the day and night. Most importantly, no one was talking to each other. Now, on Fridays, the office is filled more with the sounds of people talking and less with the sounds of typing. Dockter has seen his e-mail drop 75% in the two months that no e-mail Friday has been in effect. He says that having to read less e-mails has also given him more time to spend with his family.

Some tips for dealing with overwhelming amounts of e-mail from Nancy Flynn’s book include:

  • Copy messages sparingly.
  • Don’t let an e-mail sender turn his or her emergency into your crisis.
  • Approach e-mails strategically. Set the auto-timer so that you receive messages only at certain times of the day.

Questions
1.

Do you think Scott Dockter’s decision to institute “no e-mail Friday” will have an ongoing positive effect on morale and productivity at his company? Why or why not?

2.

In general, do you think that e-mail and the Internet have improved people’s ability to communicate? Why or why not?

3.

List at least three proactive activities that a worker can use to limit the information-overload that occurs with company intranets, e-mail, and blogs.

Source “Kicking the E-Mail Habit.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution, September 29, 2006, pG1.
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