Chaotic work environment

Charles and Fluffy had an understanding. Biting was not an acceptable form of communication.

If you’re anything like me, you spend a *lot* of time using email at work. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time using email when I’m away from work too.

Given that we spend so much time using it, you’d think that it would be a priority to get it right wouldn’t you? Pointless and ineffective emails are one of the largest productivity killers, as Jeff Goins describes in this post. It’s time to tame your chaotic work environment by doing things differently.

Tame your chaotic work environment by using email correctly

Something I see commonly in the workplace from leaders is an attitude of:

“If I’ve sent an email, then I have communicated.”

That’s simply not true, because you haven’t communicated anything unless the message has been received and understood.

Email is what’s called an “asynchronous” method of communication. This means that the receiver of an email is able to check their messages based on their own schedule, rather than in real-time.

Too many people are currently sending emails like it is a realtime method of communication – enter the “email courier”. You know these people? They follow their email across the network and then physically appear at your desk, asking

“Did you get my email?”

I have caught myself doing this a few times and realise just how stupid this is. If I need a message to get to somebody quickly and I need to know that they have received it, it is much better to talk to them in person. After that point, you might send an email to confirm the conversation and to have the email as a reference.

Soothe your chaotic work environment by realising other people work differently than you do

Following on from the point above, it’s also a mistake to assume that your team’s email-checking habits are the same as yours. Gone are the days where everybody keeps email open all the time (though it is still fairly common).

With the advent of the recent productivity movement, there are a number of people writing about how to improve your efficiency. For example, you may only respond to emails in 15 minute batches every 2 hours. The rest of the time, you might even turn your email off completely to avoid distractions. Michael Hyatt writes about batching using the Pomodoro method here.

Tim Ferriss also discusses a more strict method of checking emails only once or twice a day here.

The point is, it is a bad idea to assume that the way you use your communication tools is the same as others that you communicate with, particularly within your team. Misunderstandings can occur where people don’t receive messages that you expect them to. This is because they might not be checking messages every minute.

Calm your chaotic work environment by setting communication rules

As a leader, you do have some say in how your team communicates. You can’t set rules for everybody in the world. But within your team, you should at least try to set the boundaries of acceptable communication.

Part of effective communication is informing others how communication should occur, rather than just assuming everybody is on the same page.

There are some aspects of your team environment where you may want to set some boundaries around communication. These might include:

How your team communicates high priority issues

If an issue is urgent, you don’t want related emails sitting in an inbox for hours before being read. There may be a better way you want your team to discuss or respond to these issues.

Status updates for work completed by your team

Weekly updates on task status might be fine to communicate by email, as they are usually not considered as urgent.

Notifications from management systems

These days, it’s very common to receive automated notifications from systems as part of managing work for your team. These may include such things as customer requests coming through a CRM system, issues being raised in a service management system or task allocation messages from a project management system.

It’s important to decide how to respond to these messages, because there can often be an overwhelmingly large number of them dumped in an email inbox. Setting a timeline for when your team should check these notifications and setting response timeframes may be an important way to avoid things slipping through the cracks.

Discussions about doing the work

During the course of work getting done, it’s often the case that team members discuss issues or ask for advice. It can be a good idea to set the rules for where this type of correspondence should be recorded. For example, if you are using a task management system such as Asana, it may be useful to have team members record their discussions about particular tasks directly in the system.

This prevents “offline” communications from impacting the completion of a task and then being left unrecorded. Jill walks past Bob’s desk and tells him that he doesn’t need to work on that task any more because the client said it wasn’t important. That information needs to be recorded somewhere, instead of being in people’s heads.

It’s always challenging trying to control the flow of information within and external to your team. Trying to strictly control these transactions is likely to be difficult. However, you can set some boundaries which give you a greater chance of reducing miscommunication and confusion about what your team is doing.

Tame your chaotic work environment by actually informing people how you would like them to communicate!