Sep 5, 2010

Over Communicating to Employees and Living without Email

One area that is rarely talked about in this breathless conversation about social networks and how easy it is to communicate between organizations and their consumers is the impact it is having on the people who actually do that communication with customers, influencers and prospective consumers: the employees.

This interesting post Technology’s Unintended Consequence: The Elusive Worker spells out the challenges that employees are facing in this new world:
Making matters more complicated, workers are processing more messages than ever before. Messages are bombarding workers via email, phone, instant message, Facebook, Twitter and Yammer, among other — not to mention standard face-to-face interactions and ambient office chatter. An incomplete tally of my own direct, inbound messages in the past 24 hours registered at over 500. Not 500 ambient messages, but 500 messages specifically intended to receive my full attention. I’m not sure how I do it.

The importance of message-filtering goes without saying. If you can’t instinctively surface the needles from the haystack, you’ll have a hard time surviving in this clutter-filled information age. Indeed, humans need better filtering tools to create more sense and productivity. Progress has been slow there, so our brains continue to adapt and cope on their own.

But the other side of the coin is getting through the noise, connecting through the filters, and ensuring your message is really understood by your colleagues. The glut of information has created a poverty of focused attention. The ratio of communication to comprehension is going down.

And it reminded me of my friend Luis Suarez (@elsua) who has been evangelising living a life with little or no email - and relying on other sources - think social networking tools within and without the enterprise to get information without being bombarded by email. As he says in this Mashable article:

“As a remote employee, I’m wanted to prove to everyone that I could keep working for the company without using e-mail, relying almost … exclusively on social software tools to communicate daily with my team members.”

His plan was to show his coworkers just how dependent they really were on e-mail, emphasizing how many times a day they were compelled to check it, and proving that it was no longer a productivity tool, but a procrastinator’s best friend.

He acknowledges that times have changed. Ten years ago, e-mail was absolutely necessary for business interactions. Yet in the last two and a half years, he’s advocated for social software to replace e-mail as the go-to communication method.

Rather than restricting file and data sharing conversations to personal inboxes, Suarez persuades employees to first share data more openly behind company firewalls, and then as they ease into the concept (and if it’s relevant), share it on wider social services.

“I’ve kept track of progress,” he says. “I’ve gone from 30 to 40 e-mails a day to an average of just 17 per week. Most of those are one-on-one private conversations, for which e-mail is still probably the best tool for anything sensitive or confidential.”

So will this be the model of employee communication of the future? For certain workers and certain workplaces I think so. And its not going to be about whether the organizations are high tech - or whether they employ more millenials, it will be dependent on whether the leadership and the management of organizations can embrace change and openness and transparency and follow these principles.

In fact it will be driven as more and more CEOs embrace social media to reach out and communicate.

What do you think?