6

The question is related to "sender expectations" which are results of response time/delay - should I answer immediately or answer after some period of time.

Let's say I got an email - I immediately see it on my smartphone (as most of us), thus I can read and answer on the same time - I understand that the sender knows I saw the letter almost immediately after he/she presses "send" button.

Unfortunately, I feel that this type of short reaction time causes expectation in a sender that all the time I will response after very short period of time. This causes the sender/s send me very small/easily solvable questions without performing any actions to solve the problem or trying to find solution (which is 90% of time very easy and not time consuming). They feel it is easily to drop me a letter instead of bother themselves to solve an issues.

On the other hand, I found that if I artificially delay my answers (let's say by 4 hours or more) then the senders solve most of issues by themselves and the correspondence overload decreases dramatically.

My primary work is not related to most of these emails and email consulting, but all of the emails in question are from my coworkers.

How can I avoid the expectation of a short reply?

  • Can you just clarify a couple of things that may help people to provide applicable/useful answers? Are you based in the same office as the people who send these emails or are you based at different sites? And are the people emailing you internal colleagues or clients? – Clair Aug 6 '14 at 10:11
  • Related (but definitely not a duplicate at all) - workplace.stackexchange.com/q/10203/2322 – enderland Aug 6 '14 at 14:12
  • I edited this slightly to clarify the question as I believe this is a great question! – enderland Aug 7 '14 at 4:05
  • @Clair No, I mean multiple sites, not just one office... Most of mails from colleagues, but sometimes from clients too... – Ilan Aug 7 '14 at 5:59
5

Unnecessary interruptions is a pet peeve of mine, a single phonecall or email can cost me and my team about 15/30 minutes depending on how long it takes us to deal with the issue and then get 'into the groove' of whatever it was we were doing. There have been specific studies into just how negatively programmers are affected by interruptions and our team used one by Chris Parnin to persuade management that a change in culture was necessary.

The problem is by no means limited to those in development either, a UCL study showed that learning, specifically the ability to retain information, is detrimentally affected by multitasking. If you're reading emails whilst you are doing something that you ought to be committing to memory e.g. whilst in a meeting, reading or reviewing documentation etc. your brain is going to struggle. Tetard's theory on the Fragmentation of Working Time has an interesting diagram that shows a disruption and recovery model that is applicable to any role and shows the productive time lost as a result in a simple format.

My team all have an auto respond on our email;

Thank you for your email.

In order to provide quality output and productivity please note that the development team review and respond to emails between the hours of 9:30 and 10:00 and 16:30 and 17:00 only.

If your email is urgent please contact me directly on xxxx xxx xxxx.

Please note, non-urgent issues received by telephone will be deferred until the designated email response times.

Troubleshooting information on systems and applications is available on the wiki available at (insert link) and first line support is available from the service team on xxxx xxx xxxx or the self service portal at (insert link).

It's worth pointing out that we have next to no client contact, however the auto respond can be easily modified to apply to internal email addresses only therefore allowing external email's to be received as normal.

If you can get management on-side this approach can be effective, we saw a huge increase in telephone calls for the first couple of weeks but by sticking to the criteria you've set on what is urgent and what is appropriate to you within your remit, deferring the non-urgent correspondence to a set time and educating people on the appropriate resources to self-resolve issues has resulted in a massive drop in the correspondence we receive.

We backed up the trial with some metrics showing improved sprint outputs, decreased bugs etc. and now it's a permanent feature for our team.

10

"the sender knows I saw the letter almost immediately" - not true. Most productivity advice is about not checking emails all the time, but doing so only a few times per day, because email can seriously interrupt your "flow".

And in fact, doing just this could solve your problem. As you note correctly, answering immediately will train your colleagues to expect immediate answers. So stop checking emails in real time, and people will learn to only contact you via email with stuff that is not completely time-critical. (Make sure you still get back to everyone within one business day, of course.)

However, there of course still are time-critical things, and the productivity gurus who recommend checking emails only a few times per day argue correctly that anyone who really needs something urgent from you can pick up his phone and call you. So if you do go down that route, be prepared for people to call you. Think about turning your phone off if you need some uninterrupted time.

  • Depending on company culture people may not phone you, or have phone. Some places uses IMs for urgent requests, or urgent flags on email. In the latter case, respect it: Don't flag things that are not urgent, and do reply immediately to urgent flagged emails. – Ida Aug 6 '14 at 19:25
  • I upvote you great answer. In addition to your answer, there is another great one which received less credits than yours. Personally I like both with little preference of the answer that I accept now. – Ilan Aug 7 '14 at 20:46
3

First of all, emails are made for asynchronous communication. Expectations that you have to answer almost immediately are not appropriate.

If someone has this expectation she/he could give you a call or use a chat system instead (if you are using this).

Because emails are an asynchronous communication medium, you can answer them at a time which is convenient for you. That is, you can plan when to answer emails. Since your work is mainly not related to do support by email, it is best to not let these emails disturb you in your work, and plan for one or two times in a day to check your emails and answer those which can be answered quickly. For example, you could set aside half an hour to do this at midday and maybe another half hour just before you leave the office / end your working day. This is a matter of personal time management.

If your coworkers solve most of the issues themselves, that is great. I don't think they feel mad about you not answering immediately.

Hope this helps.

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