Are emails about missing sandwiches the biggest workplace time sink?

The average British worker could be reading 1728 'pointless and irritating' round robin emails a year, informing them of such mission-critical things as 'the printer is broken,' 'someone has stolen my stapler' and 'we've run out of milk.' En-masse 'missing food in the fridge' emails and debates about the temperature of the aircon were just a few of the annoying emails distracting workers on a daily basis.

'We are used to firing off emails for even the slightest thing,' said Charlotte Gaskin, markering manager at Sennheiser Communications, which conducted the poll. 'But it seems like some of the more mundane requests can be avoided. Copying in lots of people to emails does seem to be the bugbear of British workers.'

As well as being not particularly efficient, email might also be one of the least personable ways of conveying internal information, as the poll revealed.

38% of workers said they have sent an email that has been taken the wrong way, with the recipient thinking they were being rude, sarcastic or upset. Emails written in capitals letters left Brits feeling they were being shouted at, and over two thirds said they were likely to be misconstrued.

> See also: 'No email' policies will not last, says Gartner

The stress of dealing with a constant flood of emails is now such a recognised problem that last year the German government banned managers from emailing staff outside of work hours, urging the UK to adopt similar measures.

But despite 53% of those polled in the Sennheister study saying they wished everyone picked up the phone more rather than clogging up inboxes with wasted emails, many are reluctant to go retro and pick up the phone- 67% of workers said they send more emails than they make phone calls because it's easier, and one in five confessed they were not confident about speaking on the phone. So are there better ways of keeping everyone in the loop about mundane things such as fire drills, whip rounds, new starters and lottery syndicates?

When French software firm Atos ousted internal email in 2011 in a bid to increase productivity among its 76,000+ employees around the world, the firm had estimated that only around 10% of the messages received by employees were actually useful, with 73% of employees estimating they spent more than a quarter of their time managing email.

After the crack down, Atos said it accumulated more than 100 success stories from 1000s of collaboration efforts through social collaboration tools instead of email. They managed to completely disrupt the way employees interact by redesigning over 200 business processes as 'email free' over the course of the last three years and reduced internal email by 60% over the space of three years.

> See also: Mobile collaboration: bringing new world communication to the enterprise

Atos has proven it can be done. Analyst house Gartner points out that a cultural transformation on this scale is a rare feat, however, and they didn't do it over night.

Driving a 'big change effort' such as Atos's required a huge commitment from leadership, that needed to be defined and documented. It has to come from the top down, making sure management understand the responsibility and preparing them each individually for the transition.

Atos invested in communications and training programmes for more than 5,000 senior managers and established an 'ambassador' scheme that meant key participants were rewarded, case studies formally collected and people were assigned dedicated social media champion roles to spread the cultural change to their peers.  

Its goal of completely eliminating email by 2013 may not have been realistic or achievable, but as the Gartner report explains, it's an ongoing process that is helping to improve employee engagement and empowering them to make good use of social collaboration technologies, so that work life no longer revolves around those pesky mass emails.

'The more prevalent and less risky approach is to change culture incrementally, pursuing smaller social collaboration solutions that focus on causes around which people will rally and that target more specific business outcomes,' said the Gartner report.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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