Email as a Proxy for Work
I have been listening to Cal Newport’s latest book entitled, A World Without Email. The premise is that we need to change our working patterns to reduce our reliance on distracting and often unproductive email and other electronic messaging tools. At this point in time, it is hard to imagine getting from we are today to some new future version of work .
Email is management by push and a little bit of pull. It is a tug of war between getting work pushed at you via email (either by a person or a machine as a rules based proxy of a person). And if you are lucky, you could use it to push work down to someone else, or push work back up to someone else while you wait for a decision from them.
Tools like Slack or Teams only compound the problem…While they are smaller bursts of communication and they allow you to stay in the tool to get real work done
The battle to get from traditional manufacturing to the Toyota Production System took a long time and the benefits of that process were far easier to see and to measure.
The danger of micro and largely invisible knowledge work is very hard to see. While it is obvious that you don’t want your surgeon checking her email every 10 minutes while she is removing your gallbladder (you also don’t want her watching how to videos on YouTube), the danger from distracted is difficult to quantify.
While email introduces all kinds of noise and distraction into your day, it does empower a new kind of remote work that has a different structure than your traditional corporate setting.
One of the alleged benefits of a corporation is that it reduces transaction costs. Yet, frequent electronic communications between employees represent many transactions, and in a strange way actually make outsourcing many tasks to non employees more cost effective.