News.com reported recently that the CEO of Phones 4 U has banned email in the office.
"I saw that e-mail was insidiously invading Phones 4U, so I banned it immediately," Caudwell said in a statement. "Phones 4U staff have been told to get off the keyboards, get face-to-face or on to the phone to colleagues.
While I can certainly see how email can waste time, this seems extreme. This CEO is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Here are some things that I think are bad about a policy like this and how I think Phone 4U shoulde handle it:
Forcing Synchronous Communication
One of the virtues of email is that it's asynchronous- it doesn't matter if the receiver of the email is paying attention or not- the message is still delivered. No one has to worry about meeting times or dealing with voicemail systems- if you have a question, ask it in email and let the person reply as they can.
By forcing synchronous interactions, Phones 4 U could be preventing workers from working on multiple projects because they'll constantly be waiting for one another's time and attention to get answers or directives.
Particularly for a company who uses email frequently, the email serves as a to-do list manager archiver of knowledge. Employees use email to remind one another of deliverables and to look-up past discussions. Voice mail is insufficient for managing this type of information and so are meetings. Without it, employees will lose a valuable way of managing their productivity. Left with voicemails, meetings and pen and paper, they will lose the ability to manage their work as easily.
Loyalty and corporate culture are highly related to relationships among employees. These relationships are created, in part, through the use of office communication tools. IM, emails, the phone, meetings etc. By removing email, employees may get closer to a small group of people, but may be isolated from the larger, more informal relationships that are needed for networking.
The asynchrony of email allows people to communicate less intrusively. When contacting someone they do not know, email offers a way to communicate without real interaction. This may sound like a bad thing- but forcing interaction when all that is needed is an answer can be intimidating for some people. People may delay or even choose not to contact someone if they are forced to interact with them directly. Email helps the introverts get work done.
Therapy- Not Prevention
I think Phones 4 U should not see email as a plague, but a useful business tool that needs management. Instead of stamping it out, the company should look for ways to ensure that employees understand when and how to use it appropriately. Without some management, training, guidelines, etc. it can be a monster, but used effectively it can fill in gaps where synchronous communications fail. Therapy- not prevention.