Ed Howden

By Ed Howden
Business Account Manager |

Is your commute filled with emails? Do you feel unnecessary pressure to work on-the-go? Let’s take a look at the complicated tangle of email culture and how your workplace can be a healthier place for communication.

Email culture is pervasive, necessary and annoying in equal measure. In a few short decades, emails have come to dictate our working hours and practices and it would be impossible to run a business without them. Just think; 269 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2017!

Is the train your new desk?

A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development surveyed 2,000 UK employees and discovered that 40% of workers checked their emails outside of working hours at least five times a day. A third said they felt work is always looming over them and that they battle to mentally switch off at home.

Another study on the impact of free WiFi on public transport hit the headlines in August 2018. The University of West England found that more than half of commuters (54%) use WiFi on the train to send work emails, while others simply use their personal mobile phone connections to get work done on-the-go. Despite having the connectivity, you need to make sure you’re not being bullied into working out-of-hours! This will be unique for everyone’s workload and team culture, but just because your manager is firing out emails at 6am or 9pm, doesn’t mean you need to reply at those times. It’s all about expectation management.

Overtime or me-time?

Many see checking and responding to emails on their commute as getting a headstart or clearing out for the day. Others have said they prefer to use their commute as a neutral transition from work to home to catch up on the news, read a book or listen to a podcast. For working parents who rely on commuting time to make a flexible working schedule more efficient, working on-the-go is a choice. But for some, it may be an added stressor, which could lead to poor mental health.

Routinely working on your commute raises many questions. Is it healthy to stretch out the working day? Do employees need to top and tail their working days to manage their workloads? Should commuting be considered part of working hours or is it technically overtime?

Choice versus pressure

The outlook is different between those who choose to work on their commute and those who feel they have to. Depression, anxiety and coronary heart disease have all been linked to working long or abnormal hours. It’s also true that personal recovery and downtime helps increase job performance and creativity long-term. People stay engaged if they practice healthy psychological and emotional detachment when pressure starts to mount.

If staff feel pressured to work whilst commuting, businesses could see increased illness and workplace stress, higher staff churn, more mistakes and a poor professional impression. But for some businesses, the focus is on independence and for employees the autonomy is a welcomed work perk. Where do you and your staff sit on the spectrum?

Set expectations

Sometimes it helps to manage people's expectations of email interactions. An approach i've seen a couple of people across our business implement, and which is advocated by leadership consultants, is to have a constant out-of-office reply on. This allows you to say to colleagues (you can choose if it's internal-only or external facing too) that you intermittently check your email throughout the day and will reply at a set time. It's best to provide your phone number incase there is something urgent, otherwise this will drastically decrease the number of email distractions!

Keeping things simple

Clear, effective communication is the goal - whether you’re emailing on your commute or brainstorming in the boardroom. Keep things simple by treating email just like you do other workplace communication channels and tasks.

  1. Keep your performance metrics about KPIs not presenteeism
  2. Make it clear noone is expected to work outside of their contracted hours without prior agreement
  3. Ensure employees are trained on data security and provide the necessary tools or software for all mobile devices
  4. Create a space in the office free from distractions where employees can go to concentrate
  5. Encourage people to talk face-to-face to reduce ‘white noise’ emails