It’s 9am, just a routine day in the office. Then I hear it. Something isn’t right, the office is usually so quiet. But all I hear are voices, lots of them. Poking my head out of my office I see people in the hallway. Some wandering aimlessly, some in groups talking, others searching for colleagues in their offices.
What’s gone wrong?
I need to find out. The kitchen area is crowded with people around the coffee machine talking animatedly. “What’s happening?” I ask. And then the answer comes, and the penny drops “The email server is down.”
Ok, so I added some dramatic license, but I’ve seen this happen a couple of times in the last few years. Is email just a useful tool or has it now taken over our working day? Clearly, the positive side-effect of not having email is that it forces people into the old-fashioned communication methods.
Email is not your job!
It should be a wake-up call if your email system is down and you find yourself not knowing how to fill your time. After all, your company does not pay you to manage an email inbox. Yet that is the downward spiral many of us can fall into and it needs a pro-active approach to escape it.
Email is no longer an effective way to engage in meaningful collaboration and conversation. Our inboxes are constantly overloaded with irrelevant and unnecessary communications, not to mention all the spam. It’s easy to get distracted dealing with trivial issues and we can often overlook the need to connect with the people who are of foremost importance for us to be productive in our jobs.
Sure, there are technology tools like instant messaging and collaboration software which are becoming more popular, but email will remain as the communication workhorse for the foreseeable future. We have to be more efficient using it though. Training courses to implement email management best practices will likely reveal cost savings by improved productivity. But there is more fundamental remedy that could yield immediate results.
Try being more radical…
Why not have your office’s email switched-off for a half day each week and mandate that personnel use the telephone instead, or arrange face-to-face meetings? If you deal with external customers, call them up, or better still, arrange to visit. Otherwise use the time to talk to or meet your internal teams, your field representatives or even your suppliers. You will gather valuable insights, reinforce personal relationships and build trust which will improve your efficiency and productivity.
The value that can be gained from an informal meeting far outweighs the cost of losing a few hours processing emails.
I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a customer visit without at least one piece of useful or unexpected information, such as strategic insight, project status, industry trends or personnel changes. Reinforcing relationships with existing customers also shouldn’t be underestimated. In the B2B world 80% of revenue is typically from just 20% of our customers, but for some reason we tend to spend more effort and cost on new customer acquisition.
Whether it’s meetings with customers, suppliers or internal teams, these are great opportunities to hear about the pain-points, the challenges and the issues that keep them up at night. The feedback can form valuable input to your action plans and strategy.
Making it happen, keeping it going
So, how do you implement the switch-off? You could embrace the idea on an individual level and just step away from your PC for a few hours. Routinely switching off the email on your cellphone may give you the same effect and may also improve your social life!
A manager should have the confidence to try applying the switch-off for a half-day and make it a weekly routine for their team, of course making exception for anyone currently involved in a critical business function that requires email connectivity.
As always with any new initiative you may need to work hard to get full buy-in. Bring the team together to share their experiences and work on suggested best practices. Look for any data points that you can measure for trends associated with increased internal and external engagement.
Hopefully positive trends will be revealed, which will send a powerful message (but not by email!).
A temporary email switch-off is a simple idea to force a step-change in the quality of relationships and trust between personnel inside and outside your organisation. It may also have the side-effect of improving the efficiency with which people manage their email.
At the very least, you may go back to your office after a “switch-off’ refreshed with some new ideas on how to do your job better and therefore positively affect the company’s performance.
You’ll probably also go back to a full inbox…
Are you ready to switch off? Do you think it can work for you? Do you have any implementation ideas or tips?
I help companies drive growth, strengthen performance and improve productivity. I am a business management consultant and mentor focused on delivering exceptional results.