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    Entries in communication (84)

    Wednesday
    Mar282018

    Should workers have a 'Right to disconnect?'

    Quick shot for a busy, 'It's almost Spring Break but not quite' Wednesday - another dispatch from the front lines of technology-driven employee burnout, (and potential governmental overreach).

    First spotted from a piece on Fast Company with the headline 'New York workers may soon get the right to stop answering work email after hours' we find that there is some proposed legislation before the New York City Council titled "A Local Law to amend the New York city charter and the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to private employees disconnecting from electronic communications during non-work hours".

    First observation of this proposal? The name doesn't quite roll off the tongue like 'The Affordable Care Act' or 'Prohibition'. Maybe shorten up the name next time?

    But leaving that aside, the details of this proposed regulation/law are what is more interesting. Patterned on successful and similar laws in France and Germany, this proposal would make it illegal for private employers in New York City to require employees to answer work-related electronic communications, (email, texts, work chat messages, etc.), outside of their 'normal' working hours.

    Here's the relevant excerpt from the proposal (for those who appreciate government-speak):

    Disconnecting from work. a. 1. It shall be unlawful for any employer to require an employee to access work-related electronic communications outside of such employee’s usual work hours, not including overtime, except in cases of emergency

    There are some other exceptions from this policy named in the proposal - on-call workers and independent contractors are the two most common - but essentially if enacted, this 'Right to disconnect' would explicitly forbid private employers to require electronic message responses from workers outside of normal working hours. And the proposal also protects workers from retaliation and interference should they choose to exercise this 'Right to disconnect'.

    A couple of quick thoughts on this, then I will let you ponder the wisdom and/or need for such a regulation while you take a few minutes away from your overflowing Inbox:

    1. Note that the proposal isn't entirely clear on what 'in cases of emergency' really means - 'Where is the Penske file? EMERGENCY!!!!', which creates what seems to be a pretty big loophole for employers to walk through.

    2. If you have to resort to making a rule, whether a piece of legislation, or just a company-wide 'No E-mail Thursday' policy, then it is pretty likely you have some kind of a problem with email and electronic communication overload. A law might not make sense, but it seems apparent that carrying on with things as they are, and with employees drowning in messages, texts, and emails isn't going to be sustainable forever.

    3. It's at least worth pondering a few questions: What would our organization do if this law did apply to our employees? How would we communicate, organize, collaborate, and manage differently? Does our organization really rely on almost 24/7 electronic access and availability of our people? And if so, what does this do to them?

    Do I think such a 'Euro-style' kind of proposal would actually pass into law anywhere in the US?

    Not really.

    But the way we tend to recoil or even mock these kinds of proposals that even if ill-considered have at their core the well-intentioned goal of giving workers more balance, time to re-charge, and time to not be thinking about work, also suggests that we are probably contributing to the problem too.

    I once blogged, (it was so long ago, I can't find the link, but trust me I did), that you could learn everything you needed to know about an organization's work culture by examining six months worth of weekend email traffic.

    Who is sending them (weekend email), who are they sent to, who is responding, and how quickly would reveal tons of information about the culture.

    Have a few extra minutes soon? Ask your IT group to give you some stats on weekend email usage. I bet it would be interesting...

    Have a great day!

    Monday
    Feb052018

    Please don't follow this email advice

    I don't know why I still keep the Inc. site in my feed reader, (remember feed readers?), because about 80% of the articles are inane '5 Ways to Crush XYZ process' or 'Celebrity ABC in one sentence gave us a master class in leadership'. Awful. 

    So it was with a kind of hate read perspective that I clicked through my Feedly link to this latest gem from Inc. - A study of 386 million emails says this is a perfect time to send an email'. As I mentioned, I clicked ready to hate the piece, and hate it I did.

    Here are the four pieces of Email advice which drive increases in email open and reply rates that Inc. gleaned from a study of 386 million emails sent by the provider Yeswar. I will list each of the four, and because you demand no less, provide my thoughts one by one.

    1. Open with a short, direct informal greeting. 'Hey' seems to work best

    SMB - Short and informal seems fine to me. But I don't like 'Hey' unless it is with someone you have a fairly deep work history with. I know this is quibbling, but can we go with 'Hi' instead? And never, ever lead with 'Greetings'.

    2. End with gratitude. The three word phrase 'Thanks in advance' had the highest response rate.

    SMB - I am pretty sure 'Thanks' would do. I actually prefer the slightly more formal 'Thank you' as it also feels more personal at the same time. And the 'Advance' part also feels a little like you are trying to guilt me into doing something - responding, taking some action, etc. Again, I know I am quibbling here. But it is my blog, so so there.

    3. Save your important emails for the weekend, if possible, when there is less competition 

    SMB - Now you have gone and done it Inc. You have ticked me off. Your advice to get more attention and get noticed is to pile in to the days when most folks are taking a sanity break from the incessant demands of email. Sure, the data may tell you this is the right thing to do in order to get a few percentage points increase in open rates, but is that worth infringing on most people's days off? Does anyone really want to read even more email on the weekend?

    4. If you can swing it, send emails between 6AM and 7AM, or else around 8PM

    SMB - Assuming they still mean to send said emails on thw weekend, to me, it doesn't really matter what time on the weekend you hit 'send'. For most folks, weekend emails are just going to accumulate into a mass of 'unread' stuff that you have to wade through on Monday morning, (or I suppose, on Sunday night, if this data can be trusted). 

    A few year ago someone advised me to send 'important' work-related emails, at least to people who are tough to get to respond to messages, on Sunday nights, for the same kinds of reasons that were pointed out in the Inc. piece. While the advice, at least according to this data, might be good, I didn't follow it back then, and I am not following it now. 

    I just don't want to be the person who hits you up with an email.at 7PM on a Sunday night, a time where for most of us we are taking a little break, spending time with friends or family, working on our own projects, or even just zoning out with some Netflix. I just don't want to assume that my message is valuable enough to infringe upon 'your' time. Your Executive Time even.

    Ok, that's it, I am out. Time to have a look at the unread email that came in over the weekend. I will admit to not checking it over the weekend. Take that, Inc.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    May052017

    CHART OF THE DAY: The Decline of the Landline

    Really interesting data from your pals at the National Center For Health Statistics on the long, slow but seemingly irreversible decline of the home landline phone. Turns out, if you have dropped your landline to go mobile only, you are not all that odd any longer.

    Here's the data and as you constantly demand, some FREE comments from me after the chart.

    Some really interesting data for sure. The key points or takeaways for me:

    1. More folks than not have ditched the home landline. Just over 50% of households are now mobile only. Pretty soon it will be kind of odd and weird to still have a landline. Additionally, more than 70 percent of adults between 25 and 34 were wireless only. 

    2. Being wireless only, as a majority of households are now, means, (as if you didn't know this), that our mobile phones are constantly powered on, are always within reach, and have become probably the most indispensable piece of technology we own. What could you go without with longer, your mobile phone or your car? Or your TV? Or your coffee maker? I might choose the coffee maker, but the car and the TV I would give up. Why not? I can request an Uber with my phone and stream the NBA playoffs on my phone. Once my phone can make coffee, well...

    3. Since the mobile phone is the most important piece of technology most of us use, then gaining 'share' of people's phpne time, no matter of you are in marketing, recruiting, sales, or even HR, is the most impactful thing you can do to advance your agenda. I would posit that at least half, if not more like 75%, of the efforts you are making to reach people should be focused on how you are reaching them on their mobiles. We all know this but when I see data about the usage and penetration rates of mobile technology for HR I am not so sure we are really applying what we know to be true. 

    Anyway, that's it for me. I'm out, have a great weekend!

     

    Saturday
    Apr082017

    Situations where you should mark Emails as "Urgent", ranked

    It's Saturday!

    Woo hoo!

    I woke up this morning to the sun shining, the snow melting, (yes, it was STILL snowing yesterday where I live), the birds chirping, my Liverpool Reds on TV, and not one, but two early morning business emails both marked as "Urgent".

    Since I believe many readers would benefit from a better understanding of when, why, and in what circumstances one should mark an email as "Urgent", I present my unscientific, unresearched, subjective, and COMPLETELY biased breakdown of the situations where you should mark an Email message as "Urgent".

    Here goes....

    10. Never

    9. Never

    8 - 2. - Never

    1. Never

     

    Never mark an email as "urgent".

    If your message is truly urgent, then email isn't the medium to convey that message. Call, or text. Or get off your butt and walk down the hall to my office.  And besides, who are you to decide your problem is really "urgent" to me? Maybe I don't really care. Maybe I have 37 other problems that are more pressing. Maybe that little red flag you just dropped in my Inbox has the opposite effect that you intended, and I shuffle it to the bottom of the 'respond' pile because I just got annoyed.

    And if you are the boss, or CEO, or owner, then you don't have to make your messages as "urgent", if the folks on your team are not reacting to your directives in the way you see as appropriate, then you have a people problem, not an email problem.

    Never mark email as "urgent". Especially on a sunny, springtime Saturday morning.

    Of course you could disagree with these rankings, but of course, you would be wrong.

    Have a great weekend!

    Tuesday
    Mar212017

    Communication overload

    There has been a proliferation of new communication technologies and services that are/can be used for work purposes in the last several years. Whether it is the newer tools that have seen increased adoption in the workplace like Slack or the just released Microsoft Teams, collaboration technologies that have adopted chat or discussion features like Box or Evernote, and of course the myriad social platforms that are also used for work communication like LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. and the sheer number of places, systems, and tools that a modern professional has to keep up with is pretty daunting at times.

    Oh, and I didn't even mention email, voicemail, and (lord help us, the actual phone). Who knows what tool to use or where to look for, check, or send a new message these days?

    The comic from xkcd below illustrates this problem in a succinct, and clever way, (email and RSS subscribers may need to click through)

    For me, the (sub-optimal) answer has been to mostly ignore the communication tools that I would prefer not to use at all for work reasons, (voicemail, Twitter DMs, Facebook, and most LinkedIn messages). My strategy is that the people trying to connect with me using those media will eventually interpret my non-responsiveness as a signal that they (if they really need to reach me for work reasons), try another method. 

    For what's it worth, some time back I blogged about the preferred ways to contact me for work reasons to try and make it more clear how I would prefer to communicate.

    But the problem with that old list, and with simply ignoring (or shutting off) any of the other popular tools for business communication is that it fails to take into account what the other person would prefer. So taking a blanket approach like I have, (essentially I want everything to be in email, while I am not always great about keeping up with it at times, at least I know where I can find everything), or text (I actually like texting for work a lot, it keeps things short and sweet), keeps me from effectively communicating with people who might like phone calls or who are comfortable using social networks like Twitter or Facebook for work purposes.

    But the truth is almost no one would prefer to use every possible tool in the cartoon above to manage their work communication - it would be maddening if not impossible. And my guess is having to keep up with so many avenues for work communication are contributing to stress, burnout, and the inability to have any separation between work and not-work.

    It is probably a pretty good idea for HR and talent leaders to be cognizant of how workplace communication tools have multiplied and how the associated expectations for employee monitoring and responsiveness have changed as well. 

    Some places do have written, (or at least well-understood but unwritten), expectations for reading and responding to email for example, but I bet not many have similar guidelines or cultural norms for newer tools like Slack, the use of public social networks or apps for workplace messaging, and when (or if), employees can and should use texting for work communication. In small organizations, and in small teams that tend to mostly interact within the team, it is usually something that is pretty easy to work out.

    One quick discussion the manager should have on Day One should go something like this : "We use email for formal stuff and team or company wide announcements, (respond if you have to send a response, and do it within one day unless there are unusual circumstances), Slack for 'real' collaboration conversations, (respond according to the demands and schedules of the project/task), and texting only for brief, and usually essential, or time-sensitive reasons (respond accordingly, you know, like a human)." Don't mention tools like Facebook or WhatsApp if you don't want them used for workplace messaging and then you likely will never have an issue with employees having 17 different Inboxes to monitor every day.

    And finally, if you are starting a new communication with someone you don't work with regularly, you don't know, or is outside your organization, start with the more formal traditional tools first, (email, phone, voicemail), and don't jump to Facebook Messenger or a Twitter DM unless you are sure the person wants to use those tools for work. Not every business contact wants you sliding into their DMs.

    Ok, that's it, I am out. Probably need to take my own medicine know and try and catch up on my email. 

    But don't try leaving me a voicemail, it's full.