To avoid that our employees would feel as if they constantly need to monitor e-mail and Teams, we agreed on a few communication guidelines that increased productivity and work-life balance
In a recent survey, two out of three managers and employees said they have trouble focusing on one single task or person at a time. One in three went as far as to admit that they cannot even work for more than ten minutes without getting distracted. A likely culprit is the barrage of e-mails and chat messages coming our way every day. Indeed, another survey has found that managers report feeling increasingly exhausted from having to continuously respond to messages.
One way to avoid getting distracted is to simply check one’s e-mails less often and to silence one’s notifications. Experimental studies have indeed shown that people who can read their e-mails only three times per day report lower stress levels and that people who silence their phone notifications are more attentive and productive, and feel better psychologically. This research has inspired computer science professor Cal Newport’s philosophy of ‘deep work’. His message is simple: It’s better to work undistracted on one task for long periods, than to constantly switch between tasks whenever someone or something vies for our attention.
One obstacle to deep work, however, is the above-mentioned perception that one has to monitor and quickly respond to different communication channels at any time, which has knowledge workers checking their e-mails every 6 minutes, on average. To remove this impediment, at Python Predictions we recently put our heads together to clarify what we expect from each other with regard to our internal communication. Our aim was to agree on a few communication guidelines that would minimize distractions and ensure that our team members can log off with peace of mind. We quickly realized, however, that structuring our interactions also made it easier to contact people fast in case of urgency.
After discussions with our whole team, and an internal survey with an exceptionally high response rate – attesting to the importance that our employees attached to this topic – we agreed on choosing our communication channels depending on the urgency and importance of our message:
- For urgent matters, we first ask ourselves whether the issue istruly urgent, and if so, we call each other. We also think about how this urgency can be avoided in the future.
- For non-urgent but important matters, we use e-mail.
- For non-urgent and unimportant matters, we use e-mail or Teams.
This way, urgent matters will reach our employees, regardless of whether they are checking their e-mails or their Teams messages at that moment. What ends up in our e-mail inboxes is not urgent and what ends up in our Teams chat box is not important. In addition, we agreed on implementing some specific habits such as including expectations in e-mail subject lines (or a lack thereof, e.g., ‘FYI’) and respecting each other’s Teams statuses (i.e., not disturbing each other when in calls).
We hoped that these communication guidelines would increase productivity and improve work-life balance, and they did. Since the guidelines have been in place, our employees
- had more relatively long periods of undistracted work (50% of employees at least somewhat agreed),
- felt less inclined to check e-mails and Teams outside working hours (68%),
- felt more productive (68%),
- and felt more confident that they could easily reach people in case of urgency (82%).
No wonder our latest employee Net Promotor Score was +84! And, seeing how these communication guidelines have positively affected our way of working encourages us to keep them in place for the foreseeable future.
Does this article inspire you to experiment with your way of working? Let us know in the LinkedIn comments or via e-mail!
I want to thank Geert Verstraeten for commenting on an earlier version of this text and the governance team at Python Predictions for helping develop the communication guidelines. The initiative was inspired by Cal Newport’s book ‘A world without e-mail’.