August 10, 2015
Consider the chaos one email can cause.
Let’s say Bob from HR emails three people in his department with a question. None of them have the answer, so each adds three more people to the chain. Four of those respond, but not with the information Bob is looking for, so he schedules an online meeting and invites everyone. Because schedules are busy, the earliest time possible is two weeks away. Meanwhile, he sends an instant message to each of the four who did respond, which all turn into 30 minute exchanges.
Look at the numbers: at least 13 people are involved, 86 emails processed, two hours spent on instant messages, one meeting has been scheduled, two weeks of delay caused, and nothing has been accomplished. And, most likely, the four people who did respond have offices down the hall.
What if Bob had just walked down the hall?
We live in a tech-centric world, which opens the doors to many wonderful things. Technology allows us to connect globally, distribute large amounts of information instantaneously, and work together like never before. Skype lets us meet face-to-face across continents, instant messaging can give us quick answers without stopping what we are doing, and SharePoint gives us a central document management tool that creates a collaborative environment online.
Technology has also created habits with unintended consequences. We have more emails than we can read in a day, more meetings on our calendars than necessary, and too many daily – even hourly – disruptions. The direct impacts are an inability to focus, stress from looming deadlines that would not have been a problem if not for the distractions, and a loss of control of both time and priorities.
But the real consequence is that a tool intended to create connections may, ironically, keep them from happening. If Bob had simply walked down the hall, he may have been able to clarify his request and get the answers he was looking for. More importantly, he would have had a personal interaction, which contributes to an environment of teamwork. No longer would the email be easily ignored words on a screen. The personal connection makes it a human problem that needs a human response.
The next time you find yourself being Bob, try a different approach.
Instead of spending more than 10 minutes writing a detailed email, pick up the phone or walk down the hall.
Instead of creating, accepting, or participating in an online meeting, schedule a conference room and make sure everyone meets in person.
Instead of multitasking during meetings, leave your laptop and phone behind and bring a pen and paper, or just simply engage in the discussion.
Instead of rushing to your next meeting, take advantage of downtime to talk to people in the hallway (you were probably meaning to email them anyway).
When we start breaking our bad habits, we begin to take back control, allowing us to prioritize and be more productive. We become more deliberate in our decisions to schedule – and to attend – meetings that are important. We can determine if we need an immediate answer or if it can wait. We can reduce the noise that gets in the way of the work that is really important.
When we take back control, we are better able to engage on a human level with our co-workers and customers. Business technology was created to make business better. When we use it in the right way, it can yield untold benefits. When we do not, it can create inadvertent havoc.
Some of these good habits have become part of my daily life, some I am working on, and some are still a struggle. But even the smallest improvements in control have already improved the engagement, teamwork, and connection with the people I work with. And in the end, isn’t that the point?