We all know how much of a challenge the ceaseless tide and pressure of email can be. A recent McKinsey Global Institute paper found that Email consumes an average of 13 hours, or 28% of the average working week. Quartz calculated that this meant on average that “the time spent on reading and answering email costs a company $20,990 per worker per year.”
An unpublished Harvard Business School survey found that managers and workers across the US, Europe and Asia reported that they were either working or monitoring work while being accessible for between 80-90 hours a week.
Whilst there may be many factors surrounding this (not least the fact that many of us are working significant amounts of unpaid out-of-hours overtime as a norm), it is clear that email is less than a perfect tool and is ripe for disruption. Plus the opportunity for the successful disruptor has to be huge, so no surprise perhaps that a number of start-ups are trying to tackle it.
And yet email is embedded in not only organisational culture and process, but also individual habit, making it an extremely challenging behaviour to change. Slack, which I blogged about earlier this year, is perhaps one of the better attempts since it is a messaging app that initiates messages as chats before converting them to email when someone isn't available. So rather than try to replace email directly, it is subverting it instead by unifying the many fragmented ways in which we communicate (email being one) into one stream, and it's focus on search as the defining organisational structure is really interesting.
Something else which really interests me around this theme - after I blogged about Stripe recently, James pointed me at this interesting post from them, talking about their approach to email transparency. All email at Stripe is internally public and searchable. The orginal motivation behind this was efficiency - managing the volume of communication whilst keeping everyone up to date, meaning less meetings, more fluid co-ordination. But interestingly, this policy has now expanded into an expression of the philosophy of the company: 'We don’t just want Stripe to be a successful product and company. We also want to try to optimize the experience of working here. And as we’ve grown, we’ve come to realize that open email can help.'
An open email policy, they say, can support autonomy, less hierarchy, and more rigourous, informed debate: '...our experience has been that an ambiently open flow of information helps to provide people with the context they need to choose useful things to work on. It doesn’t eliminate the need for other kinds of structure, but it does make emergent coordination much easier and more likely'. It's also interesting that they talk about how the policy circumvents internal politics and accidental surprises, promotes curiousity, and counteracts conflict-avoidance tendencies.
The post goes on to describe the tools they use, and how they've set them up to ensure everyone has clarity on how to best manage email, avoid unecessary communication, and make it as efficient as possible across the company. They say that email transparency is something that staff consistently identify as one of the best parts of Stripe’s structure and culture, and (in true startup style) they are focused on how best to scale something that is working very well at its current size. Another digitally-minded company working in interesting ways, and from which we can all perhaps learn something.
Photo Credit: mattwi1s0n