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Dealing With the Curse That Is Electronic Mail at Work

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The need to read (and send) work email is like having a drug habit; you dread opening up your inbox but you cannot resist.

The worst time is after having been away from your desk for any reasons such as a meeting or training course which lasts more than a couple of hours. Worse still are holidays when you may return to hundreds of emails.

Working your way through the multitude of messages to ensure that you don't miss anything really important buried within is difficult.

Sending an email allows the sender to be able to take a self-satisfied position in that they did their bit and it is your problem for not having read it.

It seems that email is used to 'cover your back' and, increasingly, they are used for every instruction and ludicrous suggestion for anything ranging from. Someone provide me with an account of the need to take a break from the computer to avoid the potential for repetitive strain injury (RSI). I don't doubt the good intentions of the sender but....

I have to admire those who have tidy offices - don't ask about the state of mine - and, I suspect, they have a similar no-nonsense approach to dealing with email and probably read and either file or delete to keep their inbox neat and under control.

Personally I find it difficult to deal with the barrage of daily emails which ping with, sometimes, monotonous regularity. And the ability to archive is a skill which I desperately need to develop.

Sometimes, I wonder how we got on before the invention of email when the main way to communicate was a telephone call, a letter or facsimile to outsiders. For those who are internal however, it was usually a matter of a quick telephone call or, better still, meeting up. Written memos were usually strictly reserved for formal messages.

Maybe it is my memories playing tricks but such sentimentality is based on the perception that times were better then and we placed more importance on personal contact between one another.

So, I was intrigued to read that the world famous Italian Ferrari car maker and racing team have become so concerned with the number of what they see as pointless emails that they have decreed that their staff should avoid sending group emails and, instead, "talk to each other more and write less."

Ferrari has sent the following message to its staff:

"From now on, each Ferrari employee will only be able to send the same email to three people in-house. The injudicious sending of emails with dozens of recipients often on subjects with no relevance to most of the latter is one of the main causes of time wastage and inefficiency in the average working day in business. Ferrari has therefore decided to nip the problem in the bud by issuing a very clear and simple instruction to its employees: talk to each other more and write less."

The edict has come from the fabulously Italian named Chairman of Ferrari, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

And just in case any Ferrari employee should attempt to send the email to a fourth recipient they will have difficulty because, apparently, the company is going to use a 'mechanism' which will make this impossible though one wonders whether the likes of senior staff such as di Montezemolo will be exempt. Given that Ferrari employs over 3000 people in the northern Italian town of Maranello it is not impossible for him to get around to meet everyone individually.

In my experience senior staff tend to be extremely busy taking strategic decisions and attending meetings and, consequently believe that they have better things to do than 'glad-handing' employees at operational level.

Nonetheless, the world-famous management guru Tom Peters is among many commentators who professes that it is important for senior managers to get out and about (he called it 'management by walking about' MBWA). Unless they do so, they become remote and increasingly out of touch with what really occurs in their organisations.

And I have always admired the chief executives who spend time working on the shopfloor so they know what the impact of their decisions is likely to be on the people who will be expected to implement them. In the 1950s and 1960s before it was taken over by the bureaucrats the chocolate company Cadbury used to insist that all managers spent a day a month getting out of their office.

I suspect that many managers would be quite uncomfortable doing this now. They much prefer to stay in their air-conditioned offices and operate through email.

But this cements the culture of them (management) and us (workers).

But if one considers the many once great companies and organisations littering the corporate world to realise that a different approach to management is urgently required.

So, in that sense Ferrari's decision to radically reduce the number of emails to ensure that its employees spend more time communicating face-to-face is a good one.

More organisations should follow their lead.

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