Email reliance costs workers much more than their inner calm and patience…

What d’ya know, it turns out that extended conversations over email to resolve tricky matters can be painfully frustrating and inefficient. In many cases, you’d be much better off just picking up the phone or walking into your colleague’s office to thrash things out face-to-face. No surprises there. But did you know that email reliance can also decrease performance on subsequent tasks? Oops.

The Wall Street Journal, has published a fascinating article on this subject. Detailing the findings of a study led by Dr. Ravi Gajendran, an associate professor of management at Florida International University, it claims that:

– Working face-to-face is much more efficient than working by email. In one experiment, hundreds of paired subjects were asked to negotiate a sales strategy in person. They took an average of six minutes to reach a consensus. The group charged with achieving the same goal by email took 20 minutes to do so.

– Following the resolution of issues over email, you’re likely to perform worse on subsequent tasks. Asked to spot grammatical errors in a news story, the study’s email group – now working as individuals – caught 19% fewer errors than those who had communicated face-to-face. The emailing communicators also performed 49% worse in a series of logic problems, and 20% worse on a test of complex reasoning.

– While a large dose of text-based communication has no effect on people working in jobs with low problem-solving demands, people working in jobs with high problem-solving demands feel they’ve made less progress at the end of their working day.

Dr. Gajendran concluded that email is convenient when you just want to share information, particularly when people are working remotely or in different time zones. However, scheduling regular meetings so that tricky issues can be resolved with less time and effort is by far the more efficient option.

He also warns that, when caught in an email chain about complex issues, you should be mindful of the toll it takes on your powers of concentration before moving on to the next task. Take a break or do something relatively mindless for a while, he recommends.

Food for thought there for all the keen emailers among us – we know who we are!

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