Monday, November 17, 2008

In-Person Convos? No Thanks, We'll Take E-mail

Most surveys that have been conducted over the past few years indicate that while people applaud technology like e-mail, instant messaging, and cell phones as being beneficial to business, the majority rank in-person conversations above all else. But according to a new survey by Robert Half Technology, it appears that IT professionals actually rank e-mail above a face-to-face conversation!

The study, conducted with 270 randomly-selected Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in Canada, discovered that 49% of them would prefer to use e-mail when conversing with staff in the office versus chatting in-person, which was rated second-best at 34%.

I can understand where they're coming from. If I ran down to the front of the office to converse with Lindsay every time I needed to talk to her, I'd be reaching marathon territory by the end of every day! In the same manner, I'd also be less productive if I walked next door to Robert's office every time I wanted to ask him something, or vice versa. (Funny enough, we often use telephone intercoms, or the much less tech-savvy method of shouting!)

Consider, also, that CIOs focus much of their time on numbers, data, and complex figures that require back and forth often resembling cryptic "code". So perhaps e-mail does make the most sense in this case. In person, their conversation might sound like an audition for the latest Star Trek movie (or an episode of House: does anyone understand what those guys are saying half the time?!)

On a larger scale, however, e-mail can most certainly come in handy. It was, after all, introduced as a way to help improve productivity, and make it easier and quicker to communicate. So it does serve a valuable function on the business end, regardless of one's position. But should this apply to inter-office communication, or just to those who are situated elsewhere?

One could make the argument that e-mail began as a useful technology for chatting with friends and co-workers in a different area code or country. That way, you didn't have to incur long-distance fees. But with things like VoIP and free long distance, e-mail really has evolved to become a dominant form of communication for anyone, anywhere to talk with anyone else, anywhere. And yes, that even means two offices away.

But keep in mind that there are times when e-mail just won't cut it. If there's a meeting to be had, something visual that needs to be reviewed, or an important item that should be discussed in person rather than through a series of back and forth e-mails or instant messages, then for God's sakes, get off your butts! And there are some conversations that just make more sense in person than through e-mail. For instance, our office manager Jeanette never sends me an e-mail to ask how my weekend was: she'll walk down and ask me in person.

With that, the survey did surprisingly find that, aside from e-mail and in-person convos, CIOs don't prefer to use many other forms of communication internally. Only 6% would opt for the phone, 5% use instant messaging, and 1% use text messages.

It would be interesting to see how the number skew when talking to sales and marketing professionals, engineers, support staff, HR personnel, or other areas of company operations.

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