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Email is the winner here

Vasudha Venugopal
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Productivity worries? Yes, but email today has become indispensible in our professional lives

It is a familiar, comfortable and arguably, the most convenient way to send a message across to a friend/colleague. And, it is often called the biggest distraction in a workplace. Even as the world moves to newer forms of social media to communicate, working professionals across sectors feel the email is still one of the most powerful tools in offices today.

“Social networking sites remain blocked in most company premises, and hence the importance of the e-mail has only increased over the years,” says G. Radhakrishnan, a software developer at TCS. “Every employee is interrupted with a mail at least once in 10 minutes. Managers are constantly mailing their subordinates, with the traditional subject line, ‘Please look into this,’ and likewise. There are updates, logs on emails, complaints, feedback, besides everyday greetings and pleasantries. It is free. It takes little time. And it helps you keep a record of the conversation. Companies will grind to a halt if you ban the email,” he says.

Firms have done that in the recent past — banned the email because it was found to be distracting employees and reducing productivity. A year ago, a European IT firm Atos that employs almost 80,000 people in 42 countries made news, when it banned e-mail in its work premises, in an attempt to reduce the time spent by employees on irrelevant e-mails.

According to McKinsey’s 2012 Social Economy report, the typical corporate user spends 2 hours and 14 minutes every day reading and responding to email. The average business user wades through 114 emails a day, which works out to 41,610 messages a year, it said. Most companies have their own websites and email IDs now to ensure security and also monitor the activity of employees so that confidential information is guarded. But that has not meant much of a reduction of the load as far as employees’ inboxes are concerned. Conveying information, fixing up agendas for meetings, planning an initiative, everything happens over e-mail.

Easy delegation of work

At least a quarter of day, explains Smita Shastri, a testing associate with Tech Mahindra, is spent on “necessary, yet unproductive tasks, including routine communications.” “You write or test code for three hours, you spend at least 45 minutes mailing people updates and documenting the progress. An email sent to your team members and higher-ups is the best way to account for the work you have done,” she says. More than that, working professionals agree that email makes it easier to delegate administrative tasks. “You want to schedule engineers, see who are all available for team-lunch or even send everyone the minutes of a meeting — the email’s the best option,” says a senior manager at Wipro Technologies.

And it’s not only about work. “Employees use the office internet to look for prospective partners and send out mails to them. Everything from car pooling to crucial debates and even planning weekend trips run on e-mail threads,” says Joseph Santosh, a project manager with an IT firm. However, email does suffer from the flaw of not being very collaborative, explains the Wipro executive. “And that is why most companies are increasingly moving to different management systems. Better tools are now available to make simultaneous changes to documents, instead of sending them to people and then corroborating changes.”

‘Inbox’ as office

“Cloud-based solutions are available but not very popular,” he adds. Interestingly, many companies have also reduced dependency on e-mail to ensure an employee-friendly environment. “We have seen that some senior officials are often harsher by e-mail. Worse, in case of conflicts, many e-mails with personal rants and complaints are circulated, creating much rift in the workplace,” says Anuradha Raghavan, an HR manager in a consulting firm in Chennai. Subbulakshmi Jayaraman, personality trainer in IT companies, agrees. “In many ways, e-mails are not as popular as they were a few years ago. Five years ago, my first session with employees would have been on e-mail etiquettes. Now the emphasis is on telling them to think before they hit the ‘forward’ or ‘reply all’ button and spend more time talking to their colleagues, either on the phone or in person instead.”

Companies may have done their bit to ensure e-mailing does not hinder workplace productivity but it does not end with the office.

Shilpa Madhu, a marketing consultant, says, “sometimes, your inbox ends up being your office at home. Email is the reason why many employees are not able to leave their work back at office, and tend to carry it everywhere. This only creates more pressure on already stressed out employees.”

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