Monday, June 11. 2012
My GigaOm feed punched up How useless is email? over the weekend, citing articles that suggest 31% of emails are essential and only 15% contain gossip. You'll notice, if you read the original I'm putting very much the opposite spin on the figures.
This is simply because, of my other means of communication, there's a lot more than 15% gossip (in most channels obviously tending up to 100%) and overall the best other channels struggle to reach 20% of their volume as essential. Snail mail and Twitter were the worst for me, at well under 5% useful at all and except for conversations with my mother (which are often 100% gossip, usually about people I've never met) Twitter has to be the worst for the sheer volume of noise.
Of course there are some specific times and places where those proportions are exceeded. Meetings, face-to-face or online, usually have gossip and social grooming, but then good meetings will have protracted periods of often essential information. The amount of time spent on essential matters in a good meeting can exceed 60% in my experience. On the other hand, both online and face-to-face, I've attended meetings where people are point scoring, the meeting is poorly managed and the like and the valuable content often falls to under 30% and on the worst occasions to closer to 0. Email isn't always the best form of communication, but 31% of emails containing essential information strikes me as pretty good. My take on the average quality communication in a meeting depends on the group too much but over all meetings I'd estimate about 25-30% essential.
Managers may like to delude themselves that 100% of their communication is essential but the truth of the matter is humans are social animals: they like to chat to their friends, gossip about others and so on. They will all do it on the company's time as well as away from work. Think of those water-cooler moments discussing last night's TV or whatever and the time many people spend updating Facebook and Twitter and reading about their friends, followers and those they follow. Can you actually take all of that away from humans and still have an efficient work force I wonder? I bet you will have an unhappier and more isolated feeling workforce. While some individuals function very well in isolation, why do you think prisons use solitary confinement as a punishment? If you actually enforced 100% work time when in work, I rather suspect the productivity would fall far lower than it currently is with these supposed time wasters.
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