Productivity & Execution

5 ways email costs your company

5 ways email costs your company

Email is supposed to be a great productivity enhancer. It’s how our work arrives to us and how we make requests of others. However, because of the way most of us use this tool, it’s turned out to be a great distractor, instead.

If you’re a leader and you allow your team members to use email without offering guidelines and guardrails, you’re essentially undermining their ability to achieve your team’s most significant results with the least possible stress. Distractions from email are likely costing you thousands every year.

I’ve trained leaders and others across the globe, and I can tell you with confidence that while most leaders have the best intentions, they often sabotage team productivity by failing to explicitly set expectations around email communication. Here are 5 common mistakes:

1. Leaders treat email as a synchronous tool

The vast majority of leaders use email as a synchronous tool. By “synchronous,” I mean making a comment and expecting an immediate response. On a Zoom call or phone call, for example, if you ask a question, it’s reasonable to expect an answer in real time.

Asynchronous communication platforms are those on which we might pose a question and don’t expect an instant reply. These platforms afford us time to think through the question and craft a more deliberate answer. If you record a screencast that you narrate and then send it to a colleague, you are sharing information without anticipating a reaction within minutes.

The problem is that in most companies, email is treated as a synchronous communication platform when it is meant to be an asynchronous communication tool. However, because it’s treated like a synchronous tool, employees feel pressure to respond to incoming messages almost instantly. When our team members fail to quickly answer our queries via email, we may view this as a sub-par response and become impatient, or even upset with them. But if you think about this objectively, you realize that professionals receive hundreds of emails per day. Expecting they should treat every message as an emergency creates a culture of urgency and undermines productivity.

2. Speed of response becomes an inadvertent metric

In most organizations, I find that not only customer support agents and managers but most employees are expected to constantly check and respond to incoming email messages between every meeting and throughout the day. Even if they haven’t been explicitly instructed to do so, it’s a pervasive belief.

Everyone assumes that faster employee responses equal better customer service. But this is simply untrue, and is speed really the metric you want to compete on? Anyone can be fast.

Instead, your team members can differentiate themselves from your competitors and avoid costly mistakes by slowing down, batching email periodically throughout the day, and crafting thoughtful, deliberate responses to both internal and external stakeholders. In between, they can do other important work in an undistracted way.

I encourage leaders like you to differentiate email expectations by role. That said, I also urge you to consider how employees — even those in customer-facing positions — can make your company look better in the long run by working thoughtfully rather than quickly. By cashing in on your company’s reputation capital, your customers are more likely to experience true satisfaction.

3. Leaders don’t allow team members to unleash their genius

When our team members constantly fear that they will miss an important incoming email, they cannot fully concentrate on their most important tasks. However, failure to focus their complete attention on their critical work means your workers can’t unleash the brainpower you hired them for in the first place. I call this “unleashing their genius.”

Why would you want your brilliant graphic designer or your sharp data analyst constantly scanning their mobile phones or second desktop monitor on the off-chance that a colleague has an urgent request? Yet this is how most knowledge workers operate — with an underlying buzz of stress and fear that an incoming email might arrive.

Plus, it’s not the actual arrival of an important email but the possibility that one might arrive that creates anxiety and distraction.

4. Leaders communicate via email 24/7

Your direct reports can’t fully focus on their work due to the anticipatory stress of an incoming email, and the buzz of anxiety continues when your workers finally arrive home frazzled, depleted, and in need of rest.

If you’ve ever emailed your team members after business hours, then you can be sure that they are scanning their devices when they get home, just in case.

This is problematic because research shows that during off-hours, the best thing knowledge workers can do for their work is not work. Our brains need time off, and without it, our productivity plummets.

All team members, yourself included, need time to fully disconnect from work to recharge. Otherwise, we start to disengage from work and ultimately, burn out.

5. Leaders don’t realize that after-hours emails hurt families

Studies show that the impact of after-hours email is not only hurting your colleagues but also their significant others. Because they are distracted at home, your team members are not fully focused on their personal lives, and research shows, their relationships suffer as a result.

This is a problem for you and your organization. The employee who is happier in their personal life is more likely to be happier at work and vice versa. And happier employees are generally more productive.

How to Create a Company Communication Policy

So with all this in mind, how do you create a company communication policy that puts email in its proper place as a productivity enhancer and not a productivity distractor?

  • You’ll want to implement a company communication policy that treats email as an asynchronous tool.
  • Consider how email should be used differently by knowledge workers in various roles within your company.
  • Discourage employees from keeping a second monitor on their desks, unless they need the extra “real estate” in the service of one task. (Rather than checking incoming communication as it arrives, which is how most professionals use their second monitor.)

Finally, read my new book Everyone Wants to Work Here: Attract the Best Talent, Energize Your Team, and Be the Leader in Your Market. In it, I’ll walk you through how to set a communication policy that supports rather than undermines productivity.

Better yet, read it with your whole team and get thousands of dollars worth of bonuses, including my personal help implementing the strategies in the book.

Related Resources

8 productivity tips from a former CEO

4 ways to leverage technology to boost productivity

Category : Productivity & Execution

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About the Author: Maura Thomas

Maura Thomas is an award-winning productivity and time management speaker, author of two books, founder of Regain Your Time, and nationally recognized expert delivering her unique message that the key to productivity and effectiveness is

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