Since email communications became a normative part of business in the 1990’s, the expectations around their use and response times has dramatically shifted. When emails went mobile, with the introduction of the Blackberry at the turn of the century, the convenience of staying on top of emails quickly turned into the expectation to respond to emails anytime from anywhere.
Communication Response Times
This soon steered us into an ‘always on, always available’ workplace culture that expected quick response times, even on weekends, evenings and holidays.
What we usually don’t think about is how quickly our response time is not solely driven by company policies or cultural norms, but rather by our internal perceptions of how quickly the sender expects a response. How many of us keep our email and messenger apps open all day, responding within minutes to requests – because that is our expectation of the group norm?
This is also what drives us to check our emails last thing at night and again first thing in the morning. We don’t want to be left behind on a group chat or be perceived as unproductive or a lousy team player.
As a business culture, we need to take a step back from these norms and find a way to de-escalate response time expectations. Being constantly connected to e-comms keeps stress levels heightened and reduces the ability to re-energise in private time, which then affects both the quality and quantity of sleep, which in turn reduces overall productivity levels.
A Culture of Busyness
Being seen to be busy i.e. in the office, in front of a screen tapping away at a keyboard, is synonymous with being productive and successful. Being seen to be busy means you are more likely to be promoted and have a higher salary.
However, how do you signal to your manager and team that you are being busy and productive (known as ‘productivity signalling‘) when you’re working remotely?
The way we do this is by:
- attending every video conference we’re invited to, even if we don’t need to be there
- taking on extra projects – showing our willingness to do extra work and be a valuable member of the team
- sending emails throughout the day and evening
- using traditional commute times to work longer hours
However, this leads to:
- more cognitive energy being used during longer hours, which
- reduces recovery time for the next day, and the ability to sleep properly, which means (in the same way that an only 1/2 charged phone has lower energy levels to last the full day),
- we are less able to concentrate and more easily distracted the following day, leading to
- longer working hours needed (but less productivity) to get the same level of work done…