Minimizing Email Overload for Remote Teams

What can you do about digital communications overload?

According to a recent Ragan report on the state of corporate communications during COVID-19, 70% of respondents said the majority of their staff is working remotely. Prior to Covid, a typical desk worker received 121 emails per day, now organizations send 50% more. What’s more, in-person meetings have been replaced with online meetings and chat, and employees have to deal with a 96% increase of those as well.

The lack of social interaction, combined with communications overload (including both email and social/chat), impact employee engagement. Studies reveal communications overload leads to burnout and work disengagement, negatively impacts individual productivity and wellbeing, and often leads to feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed.

Without knowing how long remote work from home will last, now is a smart time to analyze your internal digital communications habits, and adjust your strategy—helping employees manage their inboxes, channels, and streams. Here are four strategies to help minimize digital communications overload on your remote team.

  1. Add structure to your days. An ‘always on’ digital culture can be overwhelming. Frequent interruptions can kill employee productivity and prevent work from being accomplished. For corporate communicators, adding structure means setting up broadcast communications on a routine schedule, at fixed days and times. For employees, this means creating distinct blocks of time each day for communications, meetings, and focused work. During these blocks, digital alerts can be off. When you are collaborating in Teams, Outlook can be closed. When you are processing your inbox, Teams can be closed. It takes a little discipline, yet it will improve productivity.
  2. Target segmented groups with relevant messaging. Whether it’s a targeted distribution list or a more focused Teams group, the tighter your audience circle, the more relevant the communication, and the less noise all employees have to process.
  3. Send less, link to more. Surprisingly, digital overload doesn’t mean too many messages; it means too much content. It’s actually easier for people to process a large volume of short messages than a low volume of long messages. Careful and ruthless editing is key. Consider that it takes about thirty seconds to read 125 words. Ideally, you can quickly communicate your key points and then provide a link to more details. To increase readability even more, provide whitespace between topics. And when asking someone to do something, make your expectations clear with a compelling call to action.
  4. Ask yourself if a phone call would work. While digital communication is convenient, it often lacks nuance and is open to misinterpretation. Often a phone call is best! Sure, there are times when you need a group thread, and calls may go to voicemail, but it can be refreshing to have a conversation. And better yet, a quick call often eliminates several rounds of email or chat, and actually works better to build a relationship.
  5. Use data to inform your communications. One benefit of all this digital communications is it leaves a trail of data. If you sweep that up into meaningful metrics, you can use these analytics to inform your sending, minimize email overload, and improve communications results.

As a corporate communications professional, you’re often sending important and time-sensitive messaging. Your job is to garner attention inside employee’s overloaded inboxes and stuffed chat channels, and have your communications understood and acted upon. A McKinsey report reveals the average professional spends 28% of the work day reading and answering email, that’s over 2.5 hours per day! Not to mention virtual meetings and chat. By being intentional about what and how much you write and who you send it to, you can minimize communications overload for your entire employee audience.

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