A reader writes:
Today in a meeting, a colleague announced that she only reads and responds to emails twice a week, on her “email days,” and if there were any immediate issues I would have to go down to her office in person to get a response. Our boss was fine with that, clarifying that emails should be answered within a week. Please, please tell me that this is weird and not how business is usually conducted. What can I say to our boss to convince her that this is not a good policy?
It sounds like your coworker is following a productivity hack that’s been making the rounds for the last couple of years, where you’re supposed to batch process your email only at set times, and ignore it the rest of the time. The thinking is that otherwise email will constantly interrupt you and pull you away from things that are actually higher priorities. Sometimes the advice says to check and deal with email once or twice a day. But there’s a more radical version that says to do it only once or twice a week, and to set up an email auto-responder that lets people know that’s what you’re doing.
Of course, the key for people doing this is to make sure that the interval they choose is practical for the sorts of emails they usually receive. If you run your own business and are your own boss, you can check email once a week if you feel like it, as long as you’re okay with your clients’ reaction to this. If you’re very in demand, your clients might be perfectly willing to put up with that. On the other hand, if you don’t work for yourself and you’re, say, an assistant working for busy people who need you to see their messages quickly, this probably isn’t going to work.
In your coworker’s case, it sounds like your boss is fine with her plan. There are a few possible reasons for that: Your boss might want your coworker focused on Important Priorities A and B, has made the calculation that email is interfering with her ability to do that, and has judged that the inconvenience to others is trumped by the importance of A and B. Or, she could be an email hater who thinks most things should be done face-to-face, and thus considers this an awesome plan that everyone else should adopt too. Or maybe she’s a pushover who’s just going along with your coworker without doing any critical thinking about the ramifications. Who knows — but you know your boss and probably have some idea of which of these rings more true.
In any case, if you rely on being able to email your coworker fairly regularly and need to know that she’ll see or take action reasonably quickly, then you have standing to express those concerns. You could point out (if this is accurate in your case) that it will take up much more of your time to have to track her down in person, find a time when she’s not busy, and talk in person about things that previously could be handled at both of your convenience with a 30-second email. You could also point out specific examples of work that will be negatively affected by this new policy. And if you think that people are likely to start coming to you or others for things they used to go to her about (since they’ll know they’ll have a longer wait with her), you should point that out too.
I’d start by talking to your coworker about this, but if she’s unmoved, it’s reasonable to share your concerns with your boss. She may be receptive to hearing this and may alter her stance. Or she might not. But it’s a reasonable concern to raise and see what happens.
For what it’s worth, I think “emails should be answered within a week” is an unusually long timeframe, but it also depends on the type of work you and your coworker do. There are some contexts where that really would be fine, most of the time. There are far more contexts where it definitely wouldn’t be — but what really matters are the specifics of your and your coworker’s work, so I’d try to look at it through that lens before you do anything else. It’s possible that your coworker actually is one of the (relatively small number of) people where this could make sense. If that’s the case, I’d try to give her the benefit of the doubt for now and see how this goes. If it does turn out to cause problems, you can always raise it in a few weeks … at which point your argument might be more effective anyway, since then you’ll have real-life data to point to about problems it’s caused.
P.S. Now I really want you to announce that you will only be taking in-person conversations twice a week, on your “in-person days.”