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As the communication blizzard grows ever thicker, a leading academic says it’s time to bring email to account for lost productivity.
Here at Springfords, we talk to each other, we phone clients to answer their accounting matters, and we write to you when it’s an important tax deadline. Plus, like everyone else, we find we are using email more and more. We also contribute to social media every now and again. But even we sometimes wonder how our inboxes got so full.
Seventeen years ago, when the youthful Tom Hanks and the even more youthful Meg Ryan struck up a relationship online, it was a thrill to hear those three words uttered by your enthusiastic computer: “You’ve got mail!” Everyone envied you for the receipt of an electronic missive.
Swipe left through the timeline to the present day, and imagine the cacophony in that loved-up bookshop if that were the case now. Loved-up? If you set your computer to verbally announce each new email, the only thing loved by your fellow bookworms would be the sight of your shattered workstation lying lifelessly in the skip on the street. They’d probably invite you to join it.
Battered relentlessly by copied-in reports, cross-desk communiques, and downright rubbish from bogus foreign royal families, our working day is compromised from the moment we succumb to the ever so addictive ‘get mail’ button.
It’s enough to send you into a swoon. In fact, that’s actually happening to some workers who’re already on their knees before the day starts, just from keeping up with the urgent, flagged and merely ‘Cc’d’.
The counter-productive effects came to the recent attention of Professor Sir Cary Cooper, once of Edinburgh and now professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University. He has a full blown paper on the subject, and says that emails are sapping the life out of Britain’s workforce.
What the professor says in his paper is that email is contributing to our famously poor productivity. We’re already second lowest in the G7 group of nations, but we’re not sure if that means we win a prize, are in line for relegation, or just need a lie down and a quick nap.
If Cary Cooper’s findings are correct, it’s the latter, and a lie down would do us all the world of good. He believes we have all embraced digital technology a bit too enthusiastically and presumably didn’t pace ourselves. He says we need to back off and take stock.
That though is difficult. If we really are addicted to email, then what Professor Cooper suggests is a kind of digital cold turkey. Could we cope if the IT staff switched off the servers to discourage employees from checking and replying to emails in the evenings and at weekends? Would we arrive fresh for work on Monday morning, or break out in a cold sweat and stomach cramps? More radically still, the professor recommended that in-house emails from one member of staff to another should be banned and important messages should be conveyed face to face. For those of you struggling with this ‘conversation’ concept, it’s a bit like Skype in real time - you soon get used to it.
The ultimate irony of this report? It’s delivered exclusively online. We’ll refrain from sending a link. Just for the good of your health, you understand.