When was the last time software billed as a "communication platform" actually made you more productive?
If we measure productivity by the number of emails we get in our inbox every day, we're doing great. If we measure it by the number of tweets we receive, the Facebook posts we read and the meetings we attend, wow, are we productive.
Business communication is broken because most of the tools at hand kill more productivity, time and money than they create. To recover, we need to evolve from a model of indiscriminate emailing, posting and meeting to a future of targeted conversations.
Communication Overload is Burning Cash
I've made some big accusations against email, social media and meetings, but how damaging are they?
The most recent study on email comes from Dr. Ian M. Paul, a pediatrician at Penn State College of Medicine. Dr. Paul kept track of all his emails for an academic year and found that 2,035 mass distribution emails were received: 1,501 from the medical center, 450 from his department and 84 from the university.
Estimating that each took 30 seconds to read, and taking into account the average salary of doctors at the institution, email overload cost about $1,641 per physician per year. With more than 629 doctors on staff, that's equates to more than $1 million in lost time.
Other studies have placed the cost of email higher. According to Intel's War on Information Overload: A Case Study, produced by IT research and consulting firm Basex, information overload costs the U.S. economy $900 billion per year when you factor in the unnecessary disruptions and resultant recovery time. For a single distraction, recovery to an optimal work level can take as long as 10 to 20 minutes. Based on surveys conducted in 2004 and again in 2006, Basex found that 28% of the knowledge worker's day was consumed by unnecessary interruptions, accounting for over 36 billion lost person hours per year.
Basex's numbers do not include distractions from Facebook, Twitter TWTR +0.68%, LinkedIn LNKD +2.03%, Snapchat and other social sites. Thankfully, Learn Stuff looked into this one for us: social media distractions may cost the U.S. economy $650 billion per year. Old-fashioned meetings are revenue killers too: in 2011, a survey conducted by Opinion Matters for Epson and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found that UK office workers wasted two hours and 39 minutes in meetings each week, costing the economy £26 billion per year.
If broken communication is draining over $1.5 trillion per year in the U.S. alone, clearly we need to rethink our approach to communication.
Portrait of the Email as a Time Killer
Have you ever played the "instant messaging game" with email?
You email a question to Bob, and then Bob replies back with a cryptic answer, so you email Bob again. There's about a five-minute delay between emails, and each time that little ding sounds and a little flag icon pops up on your taskbar, you're distracted from what you're doing. To get the answer to a one-line question, you have to write six emails and burn a half hour of your time.
Today, we get excited when we manage to empty an inbox, as if it were an accomplishment. The effort we put into this daily disposal ritual is silly, considering most of what we receive is clutter, as Dr. Paul found in his study. Email is failing because it's not productive to spend hours managing your means of communication.
Social Networks are Social, Not Productive
Platforms like Yammer and Salesforce Chatter promise to make your organization more communicative and "collaborative" (please don't get me started on that word). On big corporate campuses, yes, I think an internal social network does connect people and build unity. Moreover, chat-like communication gets more responses than email because messages seem urgent. However, chat is more disruptive than email.You can't manage eight chat boxes at once and be productive at anything else.
Social media-inspired platforms claim that you can "boost engagement," "gain visibility" and be "more informed," but that is the problem! As the numbers show, people are already too engaged, conversations are too visible and employees don't need more information to do their job.
Read Moroe At Forbes.