There used to be a system for communication at the workplace. Non-urgent memos (Office Space, anybody?) took time to be delivered, and sat in employees' "In" trays for months, or flapped on a bulletin board. Casual conversations were conducted face-to-face around the water cooler. And if things were really pressing, managers would pick up the phone and give the employees a ring, track down the team, or call a meeting.
Then email was born, followed by Wi-Fi, and high-speed data became ubiquitous. Today, we receive all forms of communication instantaneously. No matter where you are, and no matter how urgent the message is, everything now reaches the palm of your hand simultaneously. Be it a company-wide email on a change in benefits policy, a discussion within a working group about an upcoming project, or a Buzzfeed article with funny cat gifs, employees receive the same, instant buzz on their mobile device.
Now don't get me wrong: this is a major step in communication, as it eradicates any delays in getting messages, and finally breaks the chains binding employees to their office desks. However, because variance in speed used to indicate the urgency of a message, the advancement in mobile technology has also eradicated the old system of prioritizing enterprise communications. As a recent Harvard Business Review survey of e-mails shows, a whopping 58% of work e-mails are not essential or critical. The "do this now" messages have become lost among the deluge of information. At Lua, we refer to this new phenomenon as the "FYI Culture": "FYI: we have to respond to this customer today" gets lost between "FYI: Pizza's here" and "FYI: I've got a free ticket for Phish this weekend."
This is bad news for the 60% of respondents surveyed that use email as a tool for accountability: as colleagues delight in increased opportunities to be social, productivity falls as employees have to choose which of the myriad of messages to address first. Greater choice has come hand in hand with decision fatigue, especially for employees who are constantly on the go. It is about time every organization approached internal communications within the following framework:
- Important and urgent communication
- Important, but slow-response communication
- Non-critical communication
In line with this framework, organizations need tools that correspond to each category. Most importantly, they need a way to support communication of the first category. There are existing solutions that were created purely for the second and third categories, but those solutions are no longer appropriate for the first category. Messages that do not require quick responses? Email works for that. Non-critical talk and sharing? That category has a bevy of social network offerings. What's been lacking until very recently is a strong solution for the first, and most important, piece - the critical messages.
This isn’t just speculation about the success of a completely new framework: regular consumers have already settled into the above routine for their personal communication. They have email for their slow-response messages, Facebook for their social activity, and text messaging/calls for quick response. Instead of emailing our roommates when we are locked out of the apartment (again), we text or call. Why should enterprise communication be any different?
So take a moment to scrutinize how you are interacting with your colleagues. Scroll through your inbox and note how many of your unread messages should really have been attended to much more quickly, and would have if they had been more effective in catching your attention. I’m betting the number is larger than you think, and if you are keen on having you or your team work more efficiently, I’d recommend moving quickly to adopt tools that focus your communication. Things that can’t wait for a response, shouldn’t wait for a solution to the problem.
Eli Bronner is the Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Client Development at Lua. Prior to Lua, Eli held positions in mobile and enterprise software companies around the world, including the Logia Group in Israel and iMapData in Washington D.C. At Lua, he handles sales, business development, strategic product rollout, and operations.