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Posted by Erica Driver on February 27, 2007
by Erica Driver.
I just got off the phone with a small software startup called Get Back Software. For $3/team member/month, a department head can use Get Back’s product, called Postware, to put a cap on the number of emails that people in their group can send. The thinking behind this new software as a service is that email has turned from a productivity-enhancing tool into a productivity sinkhole, and that by giving workers a limited “email allowance” you can change their behavior—you can get them to think twice before cc:ing their boss or replying to all, or inviting a colleague to lunch via email rather than by walking down the hall or picking up the phone. I agree with the core premise here—that the productivity benefits of tools like email (and instant messaging and mobile devices) go down when the volume of communications hits a critical mass and when workers have no control over the volume and frequency of interruptions to their work.
But I’m not sure that putting yet another technical limitation on the ability of people to communicate in their desired way is the answer. After all, information workers already have technical limits imposed upon them in the form of mailbox quotas and attachment size limits. These limitations don’t encourage them to send less email; rather, people spend time cleaning out their mailboxes to make room for new mail, or emailing a sender or picking up the phone to find out why they haven’t received a presentation they were expecting (which was nabbed by the company’s content filtering tools because the file was too big). Workers will find ways to work around technical limits—such as through the use of instant messaging. Or maybe they’ll start using their Gmail or Hotmail accounts instead of work email accounts. In my view, restoring email back to its initial productivity-enhancing glory requires a multi-pronged approach: