Reply All: 3 Reasons Internal Email Is Hurting Your Team's Productivity

Email is a drag on even the best employee’s productivity. According to recent research, the average employee spends 28% of their day reading and responding to email, checking their inbox up to 36 times per hour. Forbes estimated in 2014 email cost U.S. organizations $1.5 trillion in lost productivity annually. Unless you’re measuring employee performance on the speed and frequency at which they respond to email, their focus on the inbox is likely misdirected. Leaders around the world are trying new tactics to minimize the amount of time employees are spending reading and responding to internal email to help boost productivity and work outputs. Increasingly, organizations are piloting email-free days (or getting rid internal email entirely) to maximize productivity and eliminate distraction. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you CC those 30 people on your next internal email:

1. Email interrupts concentration and deep work.

Cal Newport, a computer scientist at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, suggests that constant distractions, like a steady stream of email notifications, allow us to ignore our more important and challenging work, or “deep work.” By failing to accomplish deep work, Newport also proposes that we’re missing out on the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing big projects, a feeling that answering email fails to provide. Research suggests that when employee attention is diverted from one topic to another, it can take workers up to 23 minutes to get back to the original task. These types of interrupted periods of work, known as task switching, can eat up hours of an employee's day and limit their long-term productivity.

2. Email is a one-way enterprise communication platform, or worse, an unintended public conversation.

Sending an internal email to a large group of people has its perks. It can be an easy way to get a message out to everyone in your organization quickly, and can allow people to process the information on their own time. However, we’ve all seen how mass internal messages can quickly go sideways. Organizations like and Thomson Reuters and the UK’s National Health Service have made headlines for their reply all catastrophes, in which internal email was delayed or disrupted for tens of thousands of internal employees due to the high volume of internal messages simultaneously being sent organization-wide. Even without the threat of your private comments being broadcast to your entire organization, mass email still has downsides. It doesn’t easily allow for group feedback or comments, and organizations usually don’t have a great way to measure engagement (opens, clicks, time spent reading) with internal email. What should be a simple exchange of information quickly becomes overly complicated with the shortcomings of most internal email tools.

3. Clearing an inbox creates a false sense of productivity.

Researchers at UC Irvine studied the effects of cutting off email access for a group of employees for 5 days. Participants reported that limited email access helped them more relaxed and focused, as well as more productive under normal working conditions. A clean inbox is not a good indicator of work accomplished. By focusing on responding quickly to email, employees are likely ignoring other important tasks by diverting attention between work outputs and their inbox. Email won’t earn high marks in an annual review, nor will it impress senior leadership or shareholders. By prioritizing concentration and productivity over the inbox, employees are more likely to make progress in the areas that matter, and feel better about accomplishments in the long run.

By delivering information via the right channels, leaders stand to create opportunities for employees to produce better work and recover some of the trillions of dollars lost in the U.S. every year. According to McKinsey’s social economy report, by using social technologies in place of email, companies can raise the productivity of highly skilled employees by 20 to 25 percent. At Structural, we minimize unnecessary internal email noise with closer collaboration, workspaces that facilitate face-to-face interactions, and technology that enables us to communicate in real time. Our Employee Success Platform also enables us to target internal audiences with actionable information, in the same place where they already access coworker details, internal resources, company updates, and other critical internal information. If you’re ready to help your team spend less time in their inboxes, we can help.

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