Yes, it’s true. We instituted an internal email ban at Arment Dietrich. Well, it started as an email ban and now it also includes instant messaging.
It all started when my colleague, Christine Heim, blogged about an internal email boycott by a single woman in an effort to communicate better at work (see it here). We discussed during our weekly meeting, but I wasn’t convinced. I mean, I travel a ton and I work odd hours. How was I going to communicate with everyone here during non-office hours?
But then I began to hear rumblings that we were having conflict conversations over email…in order to avoid the person, but still say what had to be said.
So that did it. On May 7 we instituted a 10 day email ban and decided we would discuss during the May 18 staff meeting.
Don’t get me wrong. It was HARD. Especially for me…who is addicted to my BlackBerry and sends notes whenever I think of something: The middle of the night, on a plane, on my bike, in the shower.
But a funny thing happened. We began talking to one another…IN PERSON! If someone had a question, it didn’t fill my inbox or sit there for two or three days; it got answered immediately because they came into my office and asked. But it wasn’t a good thing just for me.
“With email, you don’t hear the tone in someone’s voice, nor can you quickly ask for clarification. Instead, your find yourself analyzing the message: Do they sound upbeat? Are they upset? Do they not care? Now that we’re talking face-to-face, the unknowns are gone and we get to the answer much more quickly.”
So on May 18, we discussed and people said they really liked it, but I also learned those conflict conversations were still happening…but now on instant messaging and not in email. EVEN WORSE!
Now we don’t use either…except to send links back and forth or to ask for a few minutes of someone’s time. During yesterday’s staff meeting, I asked for feedback.
Following are some tidbits:
* I find I think of solutions before presenting problems, if I know I have to have a conversation about it. Before, I would just send an email and check it off my list, making it someone else’s problem.
* It’s easy to miss something when your inbox is cluttered. Now, if I get an internal email, I know it’s important and I can’t let it sit there.
* It was difficult to adjust to at first, but now it’s A LOT easier to correctly communicate needs.
* It’s easy to take an email or instant message wrong, because you don’t hear the tone of the person’s voice. Now we have less conflict because we’re talking to one another.
* I actually find it silly now when I don’t go talk to someone. It’s made me more relaxed because I feel closer to my colleagues, but also because I don’t come to work on Monday morning to 100 emails. Now when I hear people ask, “What did we do without email?” I know the answer is, “We had conversations!‘
* This boycott has fostered increased communication and accountability.
People ask me all the time, “What about Twitter? What about Facebook?” We still use technology to get what we need, and in a timely manner, just not INTERNALLY!
I contend that if you have multiple offices (though the phone works, too!) or work virtually, the internal email boycott probably doesn’t work. But for those of you who go to an office and see the same people every day, you should try talking to them, instead of sending them an email. See what happens!