When Work and Life Collide: Companies Set Limits, Ban Off-the-Clock Internal Emails

January 11, 2012

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Technology may have freed us from the physical confines of the office but in many ways, it has created an invisible tether by which we can be tugged at any location, at any time.

For many workers, this 24/7/365 access further clouds the already problematic issues of work/life balance and productivity. It's led some employers, like Volkswagen, to limit the hours during which some of its employees can receive email to the 30 minutes before and after a shift.

Other companies are going even farther, planning to phase out internal email entirely during the next few years. Instead, company leaders are advocating for phone/text, in person and social media tools as preferable internal communication methods.

I certainly prefer to walk to someone's office over calling or emailing them and there are a lot of business benefits to social media. Even so, when it comes to one-on-one communication or communicating collectively within a defined group, email has its advantages. You likely wouldn't call a colleague at 1 a.m. – or expect to find them via some social media at that hour. You could, however, fire off an email, conveying your message without interrupting anyone's beauty sleep.

Have you ever reached a colleague by phone only to have them ask you to send your request via email? Sure, it would have been nice to have just relayed your request while you had them on the phone. But putting that information into an email does two important things:

  1. It gives you a chance to clearly state your request – and to document it.
  2. It lets the recipient get to the details when it's convenient for them, providing them with an instant point of reference to your conversation.

While a cluttered inbox can impact productivity, a blanket policy banning all internal email seems unnecessarily extreme. What might be a better approach is to encourage people to exercise discretion in both how and when they communicate by email.

According to a survey of corporate email users by the Radicati Group in May, the typical business user sends and receives more than 100 messages each day. Was every one of these communications necessary?  Probably not.

There are so many ways to reach out today. Each has its place and its function. It seems counterproductive then to limit, rather than leverage, our options. Is limiting off-the-clock email use good policy? Does a ban of internal email go too far – or do we no longer need it? Tell us what you think.

COMING NEXT WEEK: Would no inbox be preferable to a jammed one? Read our post before you decide.