10 Tips for Better Electronic Communications

By Allen Bernard

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Information is great, it's pervasive and it's burying workers faster than ever before. Information is also the new currency of our society, according to a new study from knowledge economy research firm, Basex.

A typical worker gets 200 e-mails, dozens of instant messages, multiple phone calls (office phone and mobile phone), and several text messages, not to mention the vast amount of content that he/she has to contend with.

Information overload is a significant problem for companies of all sizes; with some large organizations losing billions of dollars each year in lower productivity and hampered innovation. Interruptions, for example, said Jonathan Spira, Basex' chief analyst and a co-author of the report, cause the loss, on average, of 2.1 hours per day, per knowledge worker. This equates to approximately $588 billion dollars of lost productivity in the U.S.

"It's not a new problem but it is a problem that is be exacerbated by two things: the ease with which we communicate, which is what prompted the 10 tips, and the growing ability of anyone to post anything about anything," he said.

It's not just a case of too much e-mail, too many interruptions, too many projects, and too much content. It's all these things.

In response, Basex has developed strategies for coping with information overload, including ten communication tips designed to ease the burden. These tips are included in report, Information Overload: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us. The report is available at no charge.

"The reason I wrote the 10 tips is because I believe that the first way of correcting this is adjusting our own behavior," said Spira. "I believe this is something we can fix in a largely non-technical manner."

Here are the 10 steps Spira recommends for cutting down on your contribution to the problem:

1) Do not e-mail someone and then two seconds later follow up with an IM or phone call.

2) Refrain from combining multiple themes and requests in a single e-mail.

3) Make sure the e-mail subject line clearly reflects both the topic and urgency of the message.

4) Reread e-mails before sending them to make sure they are comprehensible to others.

5) Do not overburden colleagues with unnecessary e-mail, especially one word replies such as "Thanks!" or "Great!" and use "reply to all" only when absolutely necessary.

6) Do not get impatient when there's no immediate response to instant messages.

7) Keep presence awareness state up-to-date and visible to others so they know whether your busy or away.

8) Recognize the intended recipient of any communications is not a mind-reader so supply details in your messages accordingly.

9) Recognize that typed words can be misleading in terms of both tone and intent.

10) Do whatever you can do to facilitate the transfer and sharing of knowledge.