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    Entries in email (35)

    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.

    Wednesday
    Jan042017

    UPDATE: New Year, Less After Hours Email?

    Last March I posted about a proposed French law that would make after-hours email and other forms of work-related communication more or less 'ignoreable' for employees. After 6PM on work days, (and on holidays and weekends), French workers could not be compelled to be 'on' and responsive to the bosses 10PM emails or expected to be 'available' via their phones on weekends or on their vacations.

    In March I offered these comments on the proposed email regulations:

    At least here in the USA, the vast majority of advice and strategery around helping folks with trying to achieve a better level of work/life balance seems to recommend moving much more fluidly between work and not-work. Most of the writing on this seems to advocate for allowing workers much more flexibility over their time and schedules so that they can take care of personal things on 'work' time, with the understanding that they are actually 'working' lots of the time they are not technically 'at work'. Since we all have smartphones that connect us to work 24/7, the thinking goes that we would all have better balance and harmony between work and life by trying to blend the two together more seamlessly.

    And I guess that is reasonably decent advice and probably, (by necessity as much as choice), that is what most of us try and do to make sure work and life are both given their due.

    But the proposal from the French labor minister is advocating the exact opposite of what conventional (and US-centric), experts mostly are pushing. The proposed French law would (at least in terms of email), attempt to re-build the traditional and clear divide and separation between work and not-work. If this regulation to pass, and if it is outside of your 'work' time, then feel free to ignore that email. No questions asked. No repercussions. At least in theory.

    But here is the question I want to leave with you: What if the French are right about this and the commonly accepted wisdom and advice about blending work and life is wrong?

    What if we'd all be happier, and better engaged, and more able to focus on our work if we were not, you know, working all the time?

    What if you truly shut it down at 5PM every day?

    That is some of what I had to say about that regulation back in March. Now to the 'Update' part of the post - it turns out that proposed 'No email after 6PM' law actually did pass, and went into effect in France at the New Year.

    From January 1 onwards, employers having 50 or more employees in France will have to offer their staffs a 'right to disconnect'. From coverage of the new regulation in the Guardian, "Under the new law, companies will be obliged to negotiate with employees to agree on their rights to switch off and ways they can reduce the intrusion of work into their private lives."

    If the organization and the employees can't come to an agreement, then the employer must publish a charter or set of rules that explicitly state the demands on, and rights of, employees during non-work hours.

    It is going to be interesting to follow this story to see how it plays out in France, if employers really do follow the edicts of the new regulations, (there are not yet punitive measures in place for employers who do not comply), and if these regulations prove to impact organizational productivity and employee well-being.

    For my part, thinking about this story for the first time since last March when the new law was initially proposed, I don't think my reaction is any different now than it was then.

    What if we'd all be happier, and better engaged, and more able to focus on our work if we were not, you know, expected to be working all the time?

    Have a great Wednesday. Have fun poring through the 19 emails that came for you last night. Unless you were up at 11PM replying to them already.

    Wednesday
    Oct192016

    CHART OF THE DAY: All the places you can't stop emailing

    Today's CHART OF THE DAY comes to us courtesy of the folks at Adobe, who recently shared some results from their second annual consumer email survey

    As you may have already expected, after taking a side-eyed glance at your out of control Inbox, our collective Inbox is , well, out of control.

    Per the Adobe survey, the typical white collar worker is spending 17% more  time on email compared to last year, and despite this increase in time spent with email, (and email volume), almost half of all workers expect a response to a work-related email in less than one hour. Aside, if you are one of those people who expect that kind of responsiveness, I think I hate you. And you certainly hate me.

    There are quite a few other interesting nuggets in the Adobe survey, but the one chart I wanted to share is below, which shows how our disturbing attachment to email consumes us, and infringes on everything we do. Check out the data, (kids, cover your eyes), then some FREE comments from me after the data.

    That we can't stop checking/responding to email while watching TV or even in bed isn't all that shocking any longer. But some of the other venues (driving, formal ceremonies, in the bathroom) where at least a good number of folks admit to email use are more more unsettling.

    Sorry, I just need to step away from my best friend's wedding/nephew's baptism/grandma's funeral in order to respond to this email. It will just be a second, I promise. And please remember how many folks are all over their email and smartphones in the bathroom the next time a group of people ask you if you wouldn't mind taking a group picture of them with one of their phones. Gross.

    One last data point to share from the survey - people have become so addicted to email that many are actively having to 'detox' from the siren call of their inboxes. Nearly half of folks, 45%, have taken an email detox lasting an average of 5.3 days and report feeling 'liberated' and 'relaxed' from these detox efforts.

    I know I swore I would quit writing/complaining about email. But here I go again. Just like you swore you wouldn't check your email on date night or at junior's soccer game.

    I, like you, just can't help it. We are addicted.

    Happy Wednesday.

    Tuesday
    Sep062016

    The tyranny of connectivity

    I am slightly ashamed to admit to having done a fair bit of 'real' work over the long Labor Day weekend, (including yesterday, Labor Day itself). 

    Of course I didn't really want to work on Labor Day, or perhaps said differently, I did not want involve other people in said work, mainly by sending out email messages to them on a holiday. But, sadly, I indeed did send a few email notes out, interspersed with the other work that I was doing that did not need to involve communicating to others in order to complete.

    And I as wind up the holiday, (I am writing this on Monday night, pretty late), I have three quick observations from my Labor Day spent, (at least partly), working.

    1. LOTS of other people were working too. As I mentioned, I did, against almost everything I hold dear, send a few work-related emails on Labor Day. I received replies from almost everyone I contacted. And three or four people replied to me within 10 minutes of my original message. If Labor Day is meant to be a celebration of the working person, lots of working persons I know were also, actually, working.

    2. NO ONE I corresponded with over email or chat on Labor Day did not mention the fact that it was, in fact, a holiday. No one questioned why I was messaging them. No one replied, 'hey, it is a holiday, I will get back to you tomorrow', and almost no one failed to get back to me by about 8PM ET, (as I am writing this). 

    3. Aside from the aforementioned email exchanges, I spent most of my 'working' time on tasks that did not require outside collaboration, input, or communication. They were just things I needed to do, and were fairly important, but for some reason had not been done. I noticed my ability to get these tasks completed on a holiday, where I was not being peppered every 2 minutes with a new incoming email or chat message was incredibly enhanced. Quite simply, I was probably twice as productive working on these items on a holiday as I would have been on a normal Monday, when I am, like everyone else, almost constantly being barraged by incoming messages and requests. If I changed my working hours to say, 7PM - 3AM I swear I would be two or three times more productive than I am now. The technology and the need to stay 'connected' all the time during the normal workday is killing our ability to get things done.

    I am not about to change my official work schedule to 'off hours', but I can't say that I am not tempted. there is something to be said for working when no one, (or most anyway), are not working, and you can be, despite our state of constant connectivity, be more or less alone with your thoughts.

    There are thousands of productivity advice pieces that advocate that you consciously disconnect from email and work chat and Slack, etc. during the work day in order to get more work done. But realistically, how many people actually take that advice and feel comfortable and empowered enough to actually not be accessible to work colleagues for large stretches of the workday?

    Most organizations, and teams, expect if not demand almost real-time access and response.

    It is not until you spend a day, or even a few hours, working when that expectation simply does not matter until you realize how our constant connectivity damages our ability to get anything done.

    Having said that, maybe I should not have been surprised so many other folks seemed to be working on Labor Day. They too must have realized that a holiday is the best day to get anything done.

    Have a great week!