Email blues? This might be just what the doctor ordered

Imagine a typical day at work. You probably start in the morning with a cup of coffee, greet your colleagues and then log in to your computer and inbox. For many of us, that last action has become automatic – and understandably so. Email is a quick, cost-effective way to communicate with colleagues and business contacts. You can get immediate answers to questions, share documents, and keep correspondence organized without generating physical clutter. But, along with all its benefits, email has its drawbacks. Its constant demand for our attention can lead to stress and also get in the way of direct, face-to-face communication.

Olivier Mathiot, CEO of PriceMinister
Olivier Mathiot, CEO of PriceMinister

So, to try to overcome these problems, we at Rakuten PriceMinister introduced a unique policy that has been getting a lot of attention in France. One Friday morning each month is designated “Mail-less Friday Morning,” and for that one half-day communication by email is not permitted.

We started this experiment in February last year. Of course, the main idea was to stop staff members sending or replying to any emails for one morning. Friday was chosen as it is before the weekend and, hopefully, less correspondence right before the weekend would lead to more relaxing Saturdays and Sundays.

Differentiate Between Email and Face-to-face Communication

Another purpose was to decrease the number of emails sent internally – to encourage people to actually stand up, walk across the corridor and talk to one another. I think it’s important to differentiate between email and face-to-face communication, the latter of which allows you to convey your message more naturally. Sometimes, I also noticed that not only did we have too many emails, but their quality and tone was too aggressive or misleading, so hopefully this initiative would also lead to an improvement in the quality of internal communication.

A second focus was on efficiency. Suppose each time you ran low on an item in your kitchen – olive oil, bananas, milk – your instinctive response was to drop everything and race to the store. How much time would you lose? How much money would you squander on gas? What would happen to your productivity? We all recognize the inefficiency of this approach. And yet, surprisingly, we often work in ways that are equally wasteful.

Even a Minor Distraction Can Have a Profound Effect

Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when monitoring email while at the same time trying to craft a presentation or think about a concept, disrupts our concentration. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity even a minor distraction can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take upwards of 20 minutes.

So what are we to do? Our tactic was to change our environment to remove temptation by shutting down email programs – at least once per month – to make our employees aware of its disruptive potential.

And I am glad to report that our MFMs have been well received by the Rakuten PriceMinister team. People are now talking to one another more and thinking twice before sending emails – and not just on Fridays. The policy has been a great success, creating a brighter atmosphere in the office and improving communication. It is fantastic to see this sort of innovative practice being embraced across our team. Perhaps it’s time to introduce it globally?


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