But the people still attempting to meet classes and conduct research and deal with the administrivia are still grappling with electronic mail hell.
To be fair, electronic communication has radically transformed the spatial boundaries in which we can work and collaborate with others. But it’s hard not to see the practice of sending an old-fashioned interoffice memo and receiving a response a week or two later as a lost gift. What proportion of today’s emails would never have materialized if the sender had to type out a memo or arrange a meeting?And it takes a bit of the Crusty Old Roundhouse Foreman to make "I never check electronic mail before noon" a standard operating practice.
By lowering the barriers to communication, email has encouraged hyperimpulsive messaging behaviors. Such escalating work transactions are further exacerbated by the asynchronous nature of email, which allows messages to pile up at all hours of the day and night. It’s no wonder our colleague wants email therapy.
Technologies like email demand the intentional adoption of good practices to ensure that we get the most out of email, rather than letting email get the most out of us. Some professors take a stand by posting their policies and expectations of email communication in their syllabi. But like any tragedy of the commons, a real solution requires institutional change. Standardization of email culture should be directed not just at students, but also at administrators, faculty members and staff members.A number of useful suggestions follow. I'm glad to see that the plague of document attachments comes up.
The convenience of email sometimes leads people to think that they needn’t plan ahead. Wrong. One common complaint from faculty members is receiving an attachment with no time to read it. As one professor told us, “They think that because they can send you an attachment instantly, you can read it instantly.” We recommend that meeting-related documents be sent at least two working days prior to the meeting time.The internet is a sewer of viruses and malware and Microsoft office products are vectors. I thus had a line in my course outline to the effect that assignments were due in class on paper at the specified time, with language (less strong) about viruses, and I enforced it. So, dear reader, can you.
Ultimately, though, any new norms involving wired work away from the office or bench will be emergent.
To a certain extent, email is simply a bellwether of the cultural work overload that already exists. But it has also introduced altogether new forms of labor that pile on top of our collective workload.It's difficult to push back. The high achiever can probably negotiate terms of work that include "leave me alone from six pm to seven am." But that's not how high achievers get recognized in the first place. Even high achievers have to establish boundaries.
But for today's fun read, note how Huffington Post's Five Things You Don't Owe Your Boss becomes Six Things You Don't Owe Your Boss at Forbes. It's the same Travis Bradberry column at both sites, and it relies on the workplace telepressure research that came out of Northern Illinois University just after I ran away with the circus. I'm not sure what to make of "integrity" coming in at the bottom of the list, or the ways in which being barraged with clueless inquiries at all hours destroys your integrity. But without integrity, none of the others matter.