Email is not bad for productivity only

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Summary : email causing organizational unwieldiness and information loss is nothing new. Businesses like ATOS decided to fix this issue once for all, using means which effectiveness will need years to be assessed. But the email case has another side that’s less mentioned : the impact on wellbeing and the risks on employees health. That’s the reason why Volkswagen decided to deactivate Blackberry devices out of office hours. A single culprit but two different approaches that may even but contradictory from a cultural standpoint. But in the end the same conclusion : technology is often a scapegoat that hides behavioral issues.

The war against email is going on. After ATOS that tries to ban its internal use, Vokswagen just decided to switch Blackberry devices off on week ends. One more defeat for email and once more victory for alternate solutions ? Not at all. As a matter of fact, if the enemy is the same, reasons have nothing in common and both decisions rely on radically different philosophies.

At ATOS, things are seen from a productivity standpoint. As I mentioned, email was not the problem and the cause has more to do with information management practices. Mark Fidelman even made a more severe analysis that’s really worth reading.

Volkswagen is far from this productivity approach and focuses more on what is becoming an essential issue in today’s workplaces : wellbeing and work/life balance. VW things that it’s good to have time on one’s own, not to be 24/7 under other’s pressure. After all, if there are days off that’s for a reason. And, contrary to ATOS, VW do not plan to replace email by any other kind of tool. Switch off. Period.

So we can see that both companies, even if having complementary approaches, don’t tackle the same issue. Some may day both has to be done, other would argue that replacing email by social tools will even increase the need for being always connected.

There’s something cultural behind this debate. If the ATOS case raised a lot of discussions, reactions to the VW one were much contrasting. “How can a serious employee not be connected at any time ?” “That’s not a way to run a business in 2012!”. One more evidence there’s also a wide gap between countries that pay a lot of attention to employees like germany and those who have a different view of the importance of work in life.

Is it possible to stay available while not being overwhelmed ?

Maybe by giving up these moments  of calm to show one is a very engaged employee that reacts as soon he hears a snap of the fingers ? Not always very effective : it’s more about showing engagement that being responsive.

By making stakeholders more accountable ? As a matter a fact, if one gets a message that means that someone sent it. If people need to be educated on making a wise use of communication tools, shouldn’t it be more a the sender level (when and why one sends a message) than at the receiver’s ? That’s the way chosen by Deutsche Telecom :

Telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom introduced a “Smart-Device-Policy” last year that calls on workers to claim communication-free time when they are off work, in exchange for a promise that management will not expect them to read emails or pick up the phone all the time.

By handling the issue, each one at his own level ? I know a person that activates his “out of the office autoreply” message from friday evening to monday morning. So, as he told me “anyone who writes to me know that there is nothing to expect”.

But, when doing so, isn’t there a risk of looking less engaged or missing something very important ? The same person told me : ” In case of a major crisis, the only two people who can decide whether calling me is worth or not would never send me an email. They would call me on mu phone to explain me what’s happening and politely tell me go get ready”.

It seems to be more about good manners, respect and politeness than technology. It’s more an HR than a technology issue