Productivity low? Stress levels high? You've got email fatigue

In the Scotsman a couple of week ago, I wrote about how email is a hindrance to business. So, I'm delighted that Sir James Dyson also agrees.

Sir James Dyson says he receives only six emails per day, after encouraging a culture of conversation at his company.
Sir James Dyson says he receives only six emails per day, after encouraging a culture of conversation at his company.

I’m a big fan of picking up the phone and speaking to people. And it would appear so is Sir James, a man who has made a few bob in his time. My understanding is that innovating on a vacuum cleaner – and much more – has made him a small fortune, currently sitting at around £8 billion in fact. Nice work if you can get it…

It appears Sir James has created a culture in his company where conversations between staff are far more productive than sending and receiving emails. Sir James purportedly started this over 30 years ago when he founded his company, which in effect at the time was a start-up. And this is the really interesting nugget that I want to discuss with you today.

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Research in the US, shows that many big organisations who have complex communication procedures and layers of bureaucracy now wish to change how they do business, so that they function more as a start-up. How refreshing! Only last week, I had to deal with a big company on an issue that is critical to my business. It was email after email and printing off forms to fill in and scan back via email. It was tedious, frustrating and painful. A simple phone call would have sufficed and killed off all that monotonous administration in one go. And if Dyson can grow to a billion dollar company and not use email, then why can’t others do the same or adapt accordingly?

Is your inbox your enemy? Now wait for this… did you know that over 200 billion emails are sent and received in inboxes every day throughout the business world? The average emails sent and received by a typical busy business person each day is 137. Jeepers! That takes a lot of time to do. Would a phone call not be quicker? There’s more – people spend on average 30 hours per week, according to, checking new emails. And it seems we even take our email to the toilet with 42 per cent of people checking emails there. We have become addicted to email in business and elsewhere. It is invasive. This weekend I was guilty on Saturday night at 7:30pm of checking my inbox and replying to emails. I was duly dealt with and plead guilty to the offence to which I was sentenced - loading up the dishwasher and emptying the bins. Ouch.

With all this digital communication whirling around, does it in fact stifle creativity and innovation, mute human interaction and allow people to perhaps create jobs for themselves? How often do you get side-tracked by your inbox as another email swooshes into your inbox on your laptop, tablet or smartphone? I see it everywhere. I can be having conversations with people and they hear their smartphone beep and they read it, while we are talking. Years ago this type of behaviour would simply have been classed as rude. But today, this is acceptable. We live in a multi-tasking email communication era, where a ping on your smartphone is more important than the human being in front of you. How ridiculous does this sound?

It appears that this cultural norm is most definitely not de rigeur at Dyson. I wonder what Sir James would do if we were having a conversation on his new university proposition and I said, “can you hang on Sir James, I’ve just got to quickly reply to this email”. I think he would throw me and my phone out the building - or at the very least, just get up and walk away. I wouldn’t blame him to be honest. But, I think he is on top of something. Sir James runs what is probably one of the most innovative companies in the world. He did not simply create a one trick pony in the Dyson vacuum, but has continued to innovate and encourage this mindset in others. In short, for me he runs his business like a start-up, albeit there will, of course, be a lot more to it - I don’t want to sound idealistic or naive. But, by not getting his whole staff wrapped up in reams of emails 
each day, he is encouraging a more inclusive and engaging culture. So, here is the challenge. Drum roll please… who out there would be willing to give this a go for say a week in their business or organisation or private life and let us know how it went? Studies in the US and Canada have shown that productivity goes up, employee stress levels go down and the human interaction fosters more trust and clearer understanding between people. This must be a good thing, right? Could you trial it in one small area of your life, your business or the organisation you work for? I wonder if even suggesting such an exercise would precipitate a sharp intake of breath from bosses, colleagues or friends. Just keep reminding yourself that Sir James Dyson only gets about six emails a day from his staff. His whole business is built on conversations that don’t involve emoticons and spell-checks. How cool is that?

I might be sorely tempted to give it a go. But, before I do so, I’ll have to write an email to everyone to let them know about my plan. Doh!