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Email is the biggest time-waster in business

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We should not be slaves to our inboxes, says Persephone Nicholas.

“Email is the biggest time-waster in business and nobody’s doing anything about it.” Michael Keaton, General Manager Lego Australia & New Zealand, is taking a stand. He estimates a typical office worker could save around eight working days each year by cutting the number of emails they send and receive by 20 percent.

“The misuse of email is evil. Sometimes you have to chase salespeople out of the office and away from their email to go meet with customers or look in stores, and that’s where it gets silly.”

Keaton says email is distracting and reduces productivity. “People stop whatever they’re doing to see what it [an email] is. Constant partial attention is what they’re giving to their work all day. That’s why folks get into work in the morning, open up their email, it takes them in directions they didn’t expect to go, they work on 20 different things during the day, they get to five o’clock and have 30 different windows open on their computer and they haven’t got a thing accomplished. That’s when technology starts getting in people’s way; when it rules their job instead of them using technology to do their job better.”

Distraction is not the only downside. “It’s so easy to hide behind an email if you’ve got something unpleasant to tell a customer or colleague or if you’ve got a difficult piece of feedback to give. It’s so easy to weave that into an email, send it and consider it done and ticked off the list when the benefit of that conversation hasn’t taken place.”

Spurred on by his belief that inappropriate use of email is a drain on businesses and damaging to their bottom lines, Keaton has initiated a new approach. “I’m trying to start a revolution with email.” He has developed a programme aiming to reduce the amount of email sent, improve its quality, encourage filing and promote feedback. He’s presented it to the CEO Institute, trained his own team, transformed Lego’s English-speaking markets and has the rest of the global network in his sights.

Chris Washington-Sare, Head of Fundraising for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, is on a different crusade. “We work in 41 countries across a vast number of different time zones, so we rely on technology to be able to build relationships. We have about 100,000 paying supporters in Australia and the majority of those people we never meet face to face. We rely on technology to humanise the face of Greenpeace.”

If meeting face to face is impossible, hooking up on Facebook is the next best thing. “The majority of people in Greenpeace are on Facebook, partly because of the age profile. It’s a very good way of sharing information about Greenpeace and its activities.”

Greenpeace uses Facebook to recruit fundraisers. Washington-Sare says the site can provide an extra dimension of information about candidates. “If you are interviewing prospective staff and you have concerns, a Facebook search could reveal a different side to that person very quickly. Lots of people haven’t embraced the idea that Facebook is completely open. You can restrict your profile but if you post a picture and have an open profile that picture can be seen by anyone. You have to use Facebook in a prudent way.”

Fiscal prudence compels the organisation to embrace technology. “Technology has a massive impact on our income. The cost of sending an email is a fraction of the cost of sending a letter so it could cost $1.50-2.00 to send a postal communication to a supporter whereas it can cost .05c to send an email.”

He believes electronic communications are a natural fit for Greenpeace. “We did a carbon footprint audit of our business operations and split it into direct and indirect emissions. The indirect emissions are basically coming from suppliers, and the vast majority are from print. Electronic or technological communications are more environmentally friendly so there are less carbon emissions. We are making a concerted effort to encourage our supporters to receive electronic communications and that aligns with what Greenpeace is all about, a green and peaceful future.”

Peter Wilson, President of the Australian Human Resources Institute, believes technology should serve humans. “Without technology it would be hard to work at home, it would be hard for part-time workers, particularly women with families, to have the flexibility of work and still know what’s going on.”

When we serve technology there is no peace. “It’s become part of the pin-stripe prison. People just can’t get away, they’ve always got to take their Blackberry and they’re totally stressed out. If you’re at a conference, when the morning tea break comes, people immediately turn on their ‘crack-berries’. They can’t relax as easily anymore because communication has in some ways transformed work into Big Brother – he’s always there with you and never lets you go. A lot of people just don’t feel they can get away and unwind because of technology.”

Keaton is revving up, not winding down. He’ll campaign against misuse of email in Europe next. It’s a big job, but someone’s got to do it. “Email is as addictive as pokies.” He smiles. “There’s no 12-step programme for it though.”

persephone-nicholas_profile-pic_140wPersephone Nicholas is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Weekend Australian newspaper. She is particularly interested in career and workplace issues and also writes about travel and lifestyle. For more info please see www.persephone-nicholas.com

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