Is the office no longer the best place to get work done? It's an increasingly popular viewpoint, advanced by folks like 37signals founder Jason Fried.
I'm a longtime teleworker who only visits the IT Business Edge office one or two days a week. I'm also a confirmed hater of lengthy meetings, overstuffed e-mail inboxes and other office fixtures that Fried and others rightfully point out waste far too much of our time at the office. So I definitely get why some companies are trying things like "no e-mail Fridays."
Management consultant Daniel Patrick Forrester, author of "Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization," mentions the practice in a Washington Post column, writing that Atlanta-based shipping and fulfillment services company PBD Global had "dramatically decreased the volume of e-mail traffic without losing any efficiency or productivity" with its no e-mail Fridays rule. He says:
... By forcing employees to connect in person or over the phone, the company has driven down total e-mail volume while also building stronger employee relationships. PBD also discovered that reams of routine divisional status report e-mails, filled with statistics and weekly performance data, were better off posted to the company's intranet.
Here I should say I agree with the overall theme of Forrester's column, which is that companies must be careful not to let e-mail, instant messaging and other quick forms of communication completely replace longer and more personal dialogues. He says:
While immediacy and novel methods for instant communications have a place, they are hurting our ability to be reflective. The best ideas and insights come to us when we are away from the data and distraction. Prolonged and expansive dialogues allow leaders to better understand the problems they are supposedly solving. Cultures of debate and dissent allow for a routine questioning of the status quo and ingrained beliefs. Big ideas and new methods to innovate are rarely revealed inside minds that are tired, distracted and slaves to our digital umbilical cords. ...
Few modern workplaces offer opportunities for reflection, and that can hurt our ability to get our jobs done. When I interviewed Steven Zink, Ph.D., vice president of Information Technology and dean of University Libraries at the University of Nevada, Reno, he told me a lack of time for reflection was "a huge problem" for most CIOs, who often find themselves in reactive mode simply because they aren't able to focus on long-term strategy as much as they might like.
I did get a response from Genevieve Haldeman in corporate communications at Symantec. I had asked her if Symantec had considered the practice after it purchased Veritas Software, a company mentioned in one of the stories I found. Her response, in part: "From what I understand, this lasted about a month at Veritas and never made it to Symantec with the acquisition." Hmmm. I also found a reference that e-mail volumes increased on Mondays and Thursdays at companies with no e-mail Fridays.
Although an interesting idea, I don't think eliminating e-mail on Fridays adequately addresses the bigger problem of e-mail misuse at most companies. How many e-mails could be eliminated if people adopted the common-sense practice of adding "no response required" or "respond only to sender" on e-mail messages when appropriate? Or by moving regular e-mails filled with information like weekly performance data to an intranet, as PBD Global apparently did?
I think Intel may have come up with a logical approach. In a 2007 post from the IT@Intel blog, Nathan Zeldes said the company didn't completely do away with e-mail on Fridays. Instead it encouraged folks to focus each Friday on direct conversation-face to face or by telephone-for interpersonal communication within groups. He wrote:
Processing e-mail from other groups is OK; sending e-mail within the group is also OK -- when it is necessary. But as much as possible, they will try to walk across the aisle or pick up the phone. While this may seem a small thing, experiments done in other companies showed a great impact once people started exploring communication with the human voice.