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  1. Are we relying too much on email, rather than actual conversation, to communicate?

    November 2, 2011 by Jenna

    Latest online poll results:

    Yes – 80% 

    No – 20% 

    First, I would like to convey my thanks to everyone who responded with comments this week – obviously this issue struck a chord with lots of you, and there was some very thoughtful, heartfelt feedback!

    It is, naturally, a fact of living and working in the 21st century across cities, states, countries and time zones, that email communication has become a toll of communication that cannot be avoided.

    And, as with all forms of communication, email is not an all-encompassing evil. Sometimes it is the best and most efficient way to convey information. However, when it is used to ask simple questions when it would be faster to pick up a phone, or when people hide behind it, or when they copy in huge contact lists of irrelevant people, it becomes silly and annoying.

    I loved the anecdote shared by one poll respondent: “In my office, the IT lines went down for two days. Suddenly there were people at my door wanting to chat, and I had numerous marvellous conversations on how to do things better. People were walking around the corridors, having a laugh at the photocopier, and the whole atmosphere in the building lifted. Now with the IT lines restored, I sit in a silent space, no one chats, and even the colleague right next to me sends me an email with a simple question. Bring back the conversations!”

    As another respondent said: “there is no substitute for having a conversation to stimulate ideas and creativity.”

    Indeed. Getting everyone around the table, brainstorming, sharing ideas, laughing, asking questions, listening to each other, is unarguably more stimulating and fun than a series of silent, staid emails.

    But, a single email sent to all participants afterwards listing the main discussion points and action items is, equally, an efficient and effective way to convey the ideas generated and itemise the next steps for everyone involved to take.

    Email is also an excellent way to keep a record of an important exchange between colleagues, or between yourself and a client: “In the workplace, I prefer to communicate via email. I like that I have information in writing (both from what I have sent and received from clients) to refer back to.” Further: “Emails should be used as a confirmation of a conversation, and not as the main form of communication.”

    However, there are some situations where an actual conversation, either face-to-face or via telephone, is supremely preferable to an email exchange. “Too many people rely on emails to issue orders, bad news and to address employee issues. Excessive email usage kills the art of spoken communication and removes the opportunity for someone to respond to a certain situation.”

    No one enjoys difficult conversations, such as performance managing someone. We all have a client or contact we loathe speaking with. It is always so tempting to simply shoot off an email. But, of course, these are precisely the situations where a conversation is the best approach.

    How many times have you changed the tenor of what you will say next because of the reaction to your last statement?

    Would a problem with a customer be handled more quickly if the customer’s response was immediate? The nuance of the spoken voice includes information you would miss with electronic communication.

    Some organisations have initiated “no-email Fridays” and encourage people to pick up the phone for a conversation on any day of the week or to see others in person. These organisations report they soon experienced better problem-solving, better teamwork, and happier customers.

    I also found it interesting and somehow reassuring that listed amongst the dozens of titles in our new range of online skills tests is one that assesses Office Telephone Etiquette: “The focus of this assessment is on evaluating a test taker’s communication skills along with their ability to recognise proper telephone etiquette and the best way to handle calls.”

    What do you think? Leave your comments below or, of you feel moved to do so, please give me a call! 

    Our new poll is live! Tell us: Does your manager really care what you think and is their door really ‘open’? Results published in next week’s ChallengeBlog …

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  2. Should smokers be allowed to go out for a cigarette break during office hours?

    September 13, 2011 by Jenna

    Initially, I was quite surprised at how close the results of the online poll leading up to this blog entry were: 

    Should smokers be allowed to go out for a cigarette break during office hours?

    Yes – 38.2% 

    No – 47.0% 

    Other – 14.7%

    My initial response when I was chatting to my boss about this topic was something along the lines of “certainly not outside normal break allowances, ie, lunch. What if I said to you ‘I have an addiction to pretty shoes and must go out looking for them at least four times a day’? I’m sure you’d just love that …” 

    But then I put my reality hat back on and thought a bit more about it. We all hear and read about the notion of ‘the flexible workplace’ these days and how, due to factors such as technology and constant connectedness to our jobs, standard hours of work don’t really apply any longer. 

    So, really, as long as the job’s getting done, who cares how many ‘smokos’ someone has during the day, or how many ‘fresh air breaks’ they take, or how many times they update their Facebook status, or how often they pop over to Priceline or Nine West or Wittner (ahem)?

    Here is some food for thought from last week’s poll respondents:

    > “As long as it is not excessive and the time is made up for there is no issue.”

    > “As long as they make up the time elsewhere or don’t have as long a lunch break as non-smokers. Meaning, they should add up the time they take smoking each day and calculate this into their break/overtime etc.”

    > “If cigarette breaks are allowed, which can add up to an hour or more a day, then non-smokers should be entitled a similar type of break or given a 1.5 hour lunch break as standard.”

    > “If smokers go for a smoko break, then non-smokers should get a non-smoko break. It is only fair. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!”

    So, the notion of fairness and ‘break equality’ is the key for many people. Fair enough. I also rather loved this response: “Are you going to stop people from having a cup of coffee, too? Smokers have a wonderful ‘friending’ network which seems to be evaporating in the office where people do not talk but prefer to email or text.” This totally reminded me of my pre-Challenge Consulting job when I was a smoker who did smoke on the job. There was a place where the building’s smokers all gathered, enjoyed a cigarette, and chatted for a few minutes. I met colleagues from other departments I would not have otherwise. Interesting …

    But what of the health issues surrounding smoking? I think it’s fair to say that, whilst it may be someone’s right to choose to be a smoker, is it ethical for a company to in any way support what is generally accepted to be a very damaging habit? Granted, many smokers don’t smoke during the working day such as this poll respondent, who said: “There has been a ‘no smoking’ policy in the work place for more than 20 years. I am a smoker but I do not smoke at work.” Another respondent was much more decisive: “It is counter productive and bad example for the company.”

    Yet another respondent observed: “if you’re a smoker who works in the health industry then no, it’s not a good look to smoke at work.” I know I have often found myself aghast during visits to hospitals seeing nurses outside puffing away on cigarettes. On one hand, I think they have one of the most stressful jobs in the world and don’t blame them (as an ex-smoker, I know how marvellously relaxing a cigarette can be), but then I also think that they are in a prime location to witness the ravages of what a lifetime of smoking can have upon the human body and if that’s not a deterrent, then I don’t know what is.

    Ultimately, as with other workplace issues, consideration for your fellow workers must remain topmost. 

    Smokers should ensure that their cigarette breaks are not adversely affecting their work performance or inhibiting their productivity. Smoking should be undertaken discreetly. And, as one poll respondent quite rightly pointed out: “Smokers need to be aware of the smell they bring back with them and freshen up before rejoining their colleagues.” 

    Mint, anyone?

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