Lately much has been written on the distractions of email dependency (not to mention the huge debate generated on the like in social networks). Many articles describe how the email habit draws us away from our list of important-to-do things and enslave us to others, how it generates expectation and hooks us. But what is the case with top management in companies? Why aren’t good managers trapped by their e-mail? I’ll give you four good reasons why and then I will propose some solutions:
Reasons why managers aren’t dependent on e-mail:
- If they always paid attention to e-mails, they’d stop doing managerial tasks or functions that really add value to the company and which are really crucial at this level of the command chain.
- The majority of e-mails are informative that don’t require actions or validation by managers; instead they’re e-mails middle managers copy to their bosses.
- The majority do not cover topics of such importance to detract from priority tasks. And if they are important, they are localizable in many other ways.
- 80% is spam, something so plainly true.
Nonetheless e-mail still plays a role in business communication, not just among c-level executives but also middle managers and other employees, as it is the usual means of communication with other companies and also clients.
So, although they don’t use it too much, there are times when it is indispensible. So much so that there are some methods to improve e-mail management without wasting too much time: from specific techniques like, training not to have the urge to respond to e-mails on the spot, using auto-reply or working in 30 min blocks (like Katherine Ellison suggests in this article published in Forbes), through to global time management methodologies like GTD, a system based on the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.
But as you are already aware, optimal e-mail usage doesn't just concern managers, but also all employees of a company. I personally know of a case where a multinational saw how their employees were being distracted by e-mails and decided to forbid internal use. In fact this very idea came from one of the company managers. Although this measure spurred considerable criticism and disquiet, over time the employees became accustomed and now work quite well without it, using other more effective means of communication.
Personally I think that across all levels of the corporate hierarchy, what’s most important is to make appropriate use of the communication tools available to us, including e-mail. But I am also aware of the shortcomings. That’s why I believe that often it is more effective to use virtual communities and work groups where communication is multidirectional rather than bidirectional. Possibly the trend will move in this direction thanks to corporate social networks and the integration of multiple communication channels through these. Time will tell…