Category Archives: Financial impacts

We’re #1!

The Financial Post has made it official . . . in a column by Vancouver-based success and productivity coach Ray Williams: “The volume of emails and reliance on them for communication in organizations is becoming more acute and dysfunctional, and information overload is now the No. 1 problem in organizations.”

New York research firm Basex has been tracking the cost of that problem for years. The current total: $997 billion a year (and that’s just in the U.S.).

Meanwhile, at Harvard Business Review, contributing editor Amy Gallo suggests a method for dealing with email that’s too seldom discussed—individual responsibility! She makes the case that radical restrictions on email (being implemented by Atos and Volkswagen) aren’t really necessary.

What’s best about her article (“Stop Email Overload“) is this: It’s not “8 Simple Rules for Solving Your Email Problems,” but a thoughtful approach to attacking root causes. It also links to other helpful HBR articles on managing email, emptying your inbox, and deciding when to email—and when to talk face-to-face or by phone.


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Filed under Email management, Financial impacts, Personal productivity, Research

The cost of email: New—and startling—numbers

Researchers in the UK and Australia have put new cost figures on email use by company employees—at least £5000 ($8175) and in some cases well over £10,000 ($16,350) per employee per year. The research appeared recently in the International Journal of Internet and Enterprise Management.

Thomas Jackson of the Department of Information Science, at Loughborough University, and colleague Sharman Lichtenstein, at Deakin University in Burwood, studied how email is used and abused at four organizations. Their formula is based on an average salary of £25,000 ($40,875). While email is, of course, the way a great deal of business gets accomplished, the researchers say its costs are increased by ambiguous unclear messages, e-mail overload, security and privacy issues, and e-mail interruptions. Their formula accounts for time spent reading email (average read time and average number of emails per day), as well as the interruption recovery time involved in reading those messages.

According to a news release from Inderscience, the report’s publisher, the survey of company email use revealed typically that:

  • Almost one in five emails was cc’ed unnecessarily to staff members other than the main recipient
  • 13% of received emails were irrelevant or untargeted
  • A mere 41%, much less than half, of received emails were for information purposes
  • Less than half of emails (46%) that required an action on the part of the recipient actually stated what the expected action was
  • 56% of employees remarked that email is used too often instead of telephone or face-to-face
  • Ironically, almost half of employees (45%) felt that their own emails were easy to read

Say Jackson and Lichtenstein: “These findings may help organisations to become more effective in managing their email communication systems. It is recommended that communication managers or others responsible for email policy and management examine their email policies and develop a ‘snapshot’ of how their employees use email. Such information will provide an organisation with a useful foundation from which to build their training to increase the effectiveness of their employees.”

The researchers also studied the effectiveness of training employees in the efficient use of email using Seminar-Based Training (SBT) and Computer-Based Training (CBT) delivery modes. Says Inderscience: “The findings suggest that SBT has a diminishing impact over a very short period of time, but a combined approach of SBT and CBT is more effective and provides better results.”

Read the news release at Alpha Galileo.

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Filed under Email management, Financial impacts, Personal productivity, Research

The information elephant

If you’re here, I’m pretty sure it’s because you’re feeling the effects of information overload.  We’re going to embark on a journey to find and share some answers.

What makes me an expert on information overload?  I’m not a technologist, although I use lots of technology every day.  I’m not a researcher, although I embrace the value of data.  I’m a communicator.  I’ve spent time as a journalist, a political press secretary, an employee communications manager, a partner in a marketing firm, and a communications consultant.  About five years ago, I began to see that information overload was interfering with the communicating I was trying to do inside organizations.

Two things smacked me in the head and made me realize it was a lot bigger than that.  One occurred when I was waiting for an appointment at a PR firm.  I spotted a memo from the CFO on the bulletin board.  He said that if everyone in the firm spent an hour less per day processing email, they’d free up $1 million a year.  That was certainly serious coin.

A short time later, I was flying home next to a young woman who worked as a recruiter for a large software company.  She was about to have a meltdown.  She spent most of the flight trying to make her way through scores of emails she had downloaded shortly before takeoff . . . practically in tears . . . knowing that she’d have another huge batch awaiting her upon landing.  I’ve often wondered if she followed through on her inclination to seek another career.

It had become apparent to me that information overload was much more than an inconvenience to communicators.  It would require an all-out assault by Communications, HR and IT organizations to rid work environments of this scourge.

Early in 2007, I was involved in a two-day discussion at Microsoft Research involving about 30 researchers, technologists and deep thinkers from Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Google, Morgan Stanley, Stanford University, UC Irvine, and other organizations large and small.  I was the only communications guy in the room.  I signed on to help make something happen, and a year later we incorporated the Information Overload Research Group.  In July 2008, IORG held its first conference in New York and is now focusing on online events.  You can read my hopes for the group here.

I’ve also written two articles about IO:

The Staggering Cost of Information Overload” for the International Association of Business Communicators’ Communication World Online

Email Overload:  The Elephant in the Room” for the Journal of Employee Communications Management, republished by Communitelligence

While IORG is busy creating a comprehensive repository of research on information overload, I want to jump-start the spread of solutions.  Here are my goals for this blog:

1.  If you set out to solve the information overload problem in your organization, where do you begin?  TMI is intended to share what works.  Some of what works involves technology.  Some includes better strategies for managing incoming information.  And some centers on changing the behavior of information-sharers to more thoughtfully consider the “tragedy of the commons.”

2.  This blog is designed to serve as a bridge between the communications profession and those who are actively working to solve the problem.  Communicators are all affected by information overload—but there’s not nearly enough discussion about it within the profession.  Not all IO is related to communications . . . but communicators have a major role to play in strategizing (and then communicating about) the solution.

3.  TMI will offer ideas for individuals trying to simply keep up.  How do you cope with the riding tide of information?  What should you expect of yourself?  When is it OK to turn off and tune out?

4.  Finally, if we do our job, we’ll also broaden the conversation.  Most discussions about information overload have focused on business productivity.  Fair enough.  My friends at Basex say it costs the U.S. economy $900 billion a year (article at Huffington Post).  That merits the attention of everyone.  But what other impacts—and high costs—come with information overload?  What are its effects on government, academia, medicine, law, science, religion, marketing, journalism, media . . . and the resulting social costs?  What are the unintended consequences of potential solutions?

So we’re off and running.  Will adding to information overload help solve it?  We’ll see . . . .

Posted by Bill Boyd

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Filed under Attention mangement, Communications, Cultural change, Email management, Financial impacts