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Pass by My Desk, Interrupt My Lunch, or Pick Up the Phone!

Our take on communications in a fast pace work environment

Experts say that work interruptions cause a productivity delay of 15 to 23 minutes per interruption. Popular articles and blogs leave us with tips and tricks to better manage our inboxes, text messages, IMs and instruct us to schedule short meetings and follow up by email. This article explores what kind of interruptions should be welcomed and which should be ignored. Bottom line, if it’s important, you should be able to bypass asynchronous communications and figure out a solution on the fly.

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication involves the use of technology such as a computers or smartphones and is often delayed in nature. Basically, you reply/post, the communication disappears and then comes back later requiring you to get back in that mindset to answer the communication. Having to constantly stop and think critically about a topic is not productive and can be error prone. Think of it as the opposite of synchronous, which should be a business owner’s dream.

Today, modern companies are affected by asynchronous communications no matter their size. Business owners are constantly trying to deliver products and services in real-time, so it is important for managers to understand the implications of the style of communication they employ.

What is an Alternative?

When I was fresh out of university, I asked a customer of mine what they did with their emails after vacation. The successful businessman told me his secret: “When I come back from vacation, I delete everything that is flagged as unread in my inbox, except from upper management or my customers”. I began to wonder how he could simply ignore and delete emails without feeling guilty or miss something important, but over time I have come to understand how much time and energy is wasted on reviewing or injecting myself into these types of communications. Instead, having an in-person recap meeting affords me the opportunity to ramp up quickly and efficiently ask questions about key aspects of a project or task.

Have you ever had an email thread where you are trying to find the best time for a meeting and it went on and on (for days)? Wouldn’t a phone call or a shared live calendar have sufficed and saved tons of energy, time and lines in your inbox? Just another example where we need to step away from email and engage with our coworkers in real-time.

9 reasons why should we avoid asynchronous communications?

  1. People hide behind their technology and “pass the buck”.
  2. Wastes time because there are so many asynchronous communication threads to manage.
  3. Does not encourage collaboration or creativity since decisions are made in a silo.
  4. Causes delays in decision-making and response time.
  5. Requires individuals to prioritize based on non-relevant factors such as recency instead of importance or profitability.
  6. Causes people to be overwhelmed.
  7. Communication isn’t always clear, especially when reading through a thread.
  8. Some of the communication can be lost in translation and nonverbal cues cannot be interpreted.
  9. It looks fast paced, when it isn’t.

What is the alternative?

Think back, way back… yes there. The best communication method has and always will be a face-to-face conversation. Second to that, is a phone call. Not to worry, even the busiest of professionals can do it, you can often return phone calls while you are in transit, thereby making you even more productive. I believe that a live conversation takes less time and is more productive than using email or instant messengers

You can also leverage online solutions for sharing company information (we use Communifire) to share the company newsletters and other information that too many of us are used to emailing (and then searching for in our outbox). It saves time and storage space for all.

But then, when should we use emails?

There is a time and place for everything. Email should be used to confirm or track information where you need a paper trail (recaps, orders, contracts or action plans) and to communicate time sensitive information that is pertinent to the recipient(s) (e.g. “lunch rescheduled to noon”). Another appropriate use for email is for people working in very different time zones, however I suggest minimizing this usage as well.

Bottom line

I much prefer human interaction, even interruptions, to a stack of unread emails. I have found that we can actually accomplish more tasks with having real-time conversations versus having asynchronous conversations that usually result in lost productivity and creativity. In conclusion, PLEASE interrupt my lunch hour, pass by my desk or pick up the phone and call me. I prefer managing these welcomed interruptions instead of being inundated with emails and SMS messages.

My advice to you: the best way not to have a full inbox is to avoid asynchronous communication methods (or use them sparingly). If you get an email or text that requires multiple points of view don’t continue the thread, take the opportunity to practice traditional communication methods and walk over, pick up the phone or grab the team for an ad-hoc meeting. Now, the thread is broken and your inbox over time will become less inundated with these communications. Just ask my team, they know I don’t read emails. They, over time, have gotten into the habit of speaking to me face-to-face. While it is a hard habit to break, I assure you it will be well worth it. I have a lot more time to spend working on growing our business and ensuring our employees are well supported. I have gotten to know our team members much more personally and we have been able to make decisions happen – faster and with more confidence!

Gabriel Tupula
As an analytical thinker, Gabriel is able to see the big picture and create a road map to tangible results. He can reconcile the gaps between advanced technological concepts and practical applications. He adapts strategies to meet the needs of the client, as each business is unique in its processes. Gabriel aims to use existing tools and out-of-the-box solutions to create a perfect fit with a client’s requirements and business culture.