The Leading Virtually Digest, June 20, 2008

Email is one of the most used technologies in virtual teams. This week’s digest focuses on email, for which I noticed an increased focus in the media. The increased focus may be due to large technology companies, such as Microsoft, Intel, Google and I.B.M., coming together about a week ago to fight information overload – a problem to which email makes a significant contribution.

What: New York Times article about how the onslaught of email is hurting productivity and steps that companies are taking to deal with it.
Posts to which it is related: Improving Virtual Team Leadership Using Technology
Bottom Line: According to RescueTime, a company that studies computer habits, a typical information worker who sits at a computer all day uses the e-mail and instant messaging programs more than 50 and 77 times a day and checks out web sites 40 times a day. Evidence suggests that technology tools that have improved productivity can be counterproductive if overused. At Intel, for instance, employees who were encouraged to limit digital interruptions reported being more productive and creative as a result. About 650 billion dollars are reportedly lost in productivity every year in the U.S. due to interruptions. A big chunk of this loss arises from the time needed to recycle back to one’s work. Intel and other companies are trying to figure out ways to deal with email’s negative impact on productivity. Some solutions that they are trying include the following.

  • Encouraging workers to (a) check e-mail messages less frequently, (b) send group messages more judiciously, and (c) not letting the constant inflow of emails and the requests they include to shake up to-do lists.
  • Google introduced an experimental feature called as E-Mail Addict for its email service; this feature lets people cut themselves off from their in-boxes for 15 minutes.

What: Week-long coverage on NPR about the email age.
Posts to which it is related: Improving Virtual Team Leadership Using Technology, Email Etiquette: Is the Thank You Message Simply a Thank You?
Bottom Line: Along with benefits such as speed, global reach, and mobility, email has brought a host of problems, such as work overload, legal troubles, loss of productivity, and loss of social contact. This coverage informs us about all these problems and the solutions many are adopting in order to deal with them. When you visit the specific topics covered, you will be able to access the podcasts of the coverage on radio. I listened to most of the coverage this week on radio when driving my daughter to school in the morning. I recommend it very highly.

What: NY Times article about problems with email delivery.
Posts to which it is related: Improving Virtual Team Leadership Using Technology, Email Etiquette: Is the Thank You Message Simply a Thank You?
Bottom Line: We tend to assume that our email will be delivered to its intended recipient. However, email can be miscarried due to which it may not reach its destination. While the basic email technology has a provision to send back a message about delivery failure, this message, oftentimes, does not reach us. Consequently, we are often left wondering (and end up making wrong assumptions about) why the intended recipient has not responded to our email. Two businesses, ReadNotify of Australia and MsgTag of New Zealand, provide delivery confirmation services. ReadNotify also tells you how long your message was viewed. Besides raising issues about intrusion into our lives, this feature also tells spammers who reads their emails. Obviously, they are going to spam that person even more!

Article written by

Surinder Kahai is an Associate Professor of MIS and Fellow of the Center for Leadership Studies at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton. He has a B. Tech in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay), an M.S. in Chemical Engineering from Rutgers University, and a Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Michigan. Surinder has an active research program on leadership in virtual teams, computer-mediated communication and learning, collaboration in virtual worlds, CIO leadership, and IT alignment. His research has been published in several journals including Data Base for Advances in Information Systems, Decision Sciences, Group & Organization Management, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management Information Systems, Leadership Quarterly, and Personnel Psychology. He is currently serving on the editorial boards of Group and Organization Management, IEEE-TEM, and the International Journal of e-Collaboration. He co-edited a Special Issue of Organizational Dynamics on e-leadership and a Special Issue of International Journal of e-Collaboration on Virtual Team Leadership. Surinder has won numerous awards for his teaching, including the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Surinder has spoken on and consulted with several organizations in the U.S. and abroad on the topics of virtual team leadership, e-business, and IS-business alignment, and IS strategy and planning

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