Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Is Instant Communication Too Instant?

I have three email accounts that I keep up with regularly. One is my work address, that I use to communicate with other employees and the occasional member of the public with whom I have business. Since we're on Microsoft systems here in my office, we use MS Office and I have Outlook open the entire time I'm at my desk. I could get an email at any time advising me of a system outage that might affect my company's websites, an error on a page that requires immediate correction, or feedback from the public on any of the 30+ feedback pages scattered about all the hospitals' sites.

It's also set to deliver me local and national breaking news stories emails, enewsletters, error notifications and of course spam. The company's spam filters intercept most of it, but sometimes it gets through. There are rare occasions I will access this email account remotely from home but it doesn't happen often. The vast majority of my work is done at work.

I also have a personal Yahoo account that stays open all the time in Internet Explorer, the same browser I use to build my websites. This account is mainly for communication with friends and acquaintances, a lot of personal newsletters and Yahoo Group post notifications, theatre communication, and freelance web design work I do here and there. I don't advertise that account on the blog but it does exist and several people I know have it.

Finally, I also have my Inn of the Last Home email account open in Firefox all the time. I use Firefox simulatenously to test sites in the other most popular browser, keep up with blog postings and post to this site (like I'm doing now). And email sent to me having to do with blog feedback or other of that type of online business comes through there.

Here's my point - all three of these email accounts are open while I'm at my desk, and any time someone sends me an email on any of them, I get it fairly quickly. When I'm at home the lag time increases but I frequently check both Yahoo addresses often during the evening and the morning to see if there's any personal business or correspondence that needs to be taken care of. Typically if I receive an email that needs a response, it will be sent out very shortly after receiving it. Sometimes in minutes. Since chat is blocked at my work, Big Orange Michael and myself have been known to let the emails fly back and forth at times.

None of this email attention affects my work productivity, as it's always answered or read during slight downtimes between tasks. Sometimes my wife looks at me funny when I'm checking my email first thing in the morning ("who's going to send you anything at 3am?") but I feel it's my responsibility to answer an email as quickly as possible. If you were standing in a room and someone asked you a question, you wouldn't walk away, take care of some business, eat a meal, watch some TV, then walk back in and answer would you? I feel it's rude on my part to not respond in due haste.

This is an unknown practice at work, as most of my marketing manager clients check and respond to email haphazardly. I may send an email linking to a test site for review and it could be days before I hear a response. Which throws my productivity schedule off, because I have to stop what I was doing waiting for further instructions and comment. This is common in the print world they're accustomed to, but in the online world where communication and decisions are made instantaneously and on-the-fly it can be maddening.

What is your email etiquette?

How many email accounts do you use regularly?

How quickly do you check it? How quickly do you respond?

Do you handle work emails and personal emails differently?

Do we have a responsibility, ethically - if we accept that our email accounts are as viable a way of reaching us as telephones - to respond with all due haste? Or do we treat them as Caller ID and answer when we feel like it? I admit I screen calls at home, but only when I can tell they're solicitors or political calls. I think it's also rude to ignore call from someone you know just because you don't want to talk to them.

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