Email backlash takes root in tech heartland
In the heart of Silicon Valley a strange movement is taking shape.
None other than Paul Otellini, the CEO of chip-manufacturer Intel, gave the battle cry last month when he complained that the scourge of email overload was having a detrimental effect on the productivity of his prized engineers.
Otellini, who as a 30 year veteran of Intel has done as much as anyone to drive digital culture into the mainstream, complained in an interview with the Financial Times about "the fact that engineers two cubicles apart send an e-mail rather than get up and talk."
"The whole nature of sitting down and hashing out ideas and collaborating is a bit stymied by the construct of the cubicles," Otellini said.
It didn’t take long for his problem-solving engineers to respond to his challenge.
They morphed the long-accepted corporate tradition of casual Fridays into No-email Fridays. With only 150 engineers taking part in the pilot project, it’s still far from widespread in Intel, a company that employs 100,000 people around the world.
The rule isn’t even steadfast.
In his blog post on the subject, Nathan Zeldes, an Intel engineer, explains that the idea is to encourage members of the pilot group to "focus each Friday on direct conversation – face to face or by telephone – for interpersonal communication within the group."
"Processing email from other groups is OK; sending email within the group is also OK – when it is necessary. But as much as possible, they will try to walk across the aisle or pick up the phone," Zeldes says.
Yet despite its limits the experiment certainly points to the problems that many workers are experiencing with the constant flood of communications in the digital age.
That’s not surprising given the sheer volume of messages zipping around the globe. Each day, about 39.7 billion person-to-person e-mails, 17.1 billion automated alerts, and 40.5 billion pieces of spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) are sent worldwide, researcher IDC says.
That 97-billion-daily-email total is up from just 15 billion in 2000, with white-collar workers often receiving as many as 150 messages a day.
On average, individual corporate users are projected to send 47 emails every day, an increase of 27 per cent over last year, according the Radicati Group, a Silicon Valley research and consulting firm.
Not only is it a huge time drain, about one-third of users feel stressed by heavy email volume, according to a 2007 study of 177 people by the University of Glasgow. Many check email as often as 30 to 40 times an hour, the study showed.
Some firms are showing impressive results from their email moratoriums. At PBD, an Atlanta-based product fulfilment company, email volume dropped 50 per cent after the company instituted a no-email Friday rule that helped employees and business partners rediscover the benefits of personal communication.
"Just talking, we can solve things much more quickly," said CEO Scott Dockter. "We don’t misinterpret."
Productivity experts give these tips for email efficiency:
– Read and respond to e-mails in batches, rather than every time a new one arrives.
– Be brief. If possible get the entire message in the subject line.
– Turn off the ding that signals a new e-mail.
– Maximize the interval at which new e-mail downloads to your computer.
– Coach your colleagues and other frequent e-mailers to communicate clearly.
– Ask to be removed from mailing lists you don’t find useful.
– Sort incoming e-mail into folders so you can see your entire in- box and easily find saved e-mails.
– Don’t send confidential, personal or potentially embarrassing messages via e-mail.
– Resist reading or answering e-mail during your personal time.
Expatica April 2008