Feb 19, 2005

The cost of e-mail interruption at the workplace

The use of email by employees at a british company was studied and it was found that the interrupt effect from emails is more than generally believed.

Employees allowed themselves to be interrupted almost as frequently as telephone calls, and the common reaction to the arrival of an email is to react almost as quickly as they would respond to telephone calls.

This means the interrupt effect is comparable with that of a telephone call.

The recovery time from an email interruption was found to be significantly less than the published recovery time for telephone calls.

It is to be concluded that while Email is still less disruptive than the telephone, the way the majority of users handle their incoming email has been shown to give far more interruption than expected.

By analysing the data captured the authors have been able to create recommendations for a set of guidelines for email usage within the workplace that will increase employee efficiency by reducing the prominence of interruptions, restricting the use of email-to-all messages, setting-up the email application to display three lines of the email and to check for email less frequently.

It is recommended that training should be given to staff on how to use email more effectively to increase employee productivity.

Most email applications allow different means of notifying the user of incoming email. These different means can give different levels of intrusion, as some are easier to ignore than others.

For example a prominent sound accompanying a pop up dialog box that requires a response, has a far more intrusive effect than a small icon that appears in one corner of the screen, yet the user is just as aware of the incoming email whichever is used.

A less intrusive notification may encourage users to respond in their own time at a moment which is more convenient for them as it will give less of an interruption to their concentration on the job in hand.

It is notable that many of the email messages employees received were not really relevant to for them.

This usually resulted from an email sent to all employees. This was particularly true when employees used a reply-to-all message when the whole company received the message yet it was often only useful to one or two individuals.

To reduce this problem employees should be encouraged to restrict their use of email-to-all messages, and especially reply-to-all messages.

This may be achieved through better education and training on the use of email. A further encouragement may be to provide more targeted user groups to allow employees to be more selective about who they contact.

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