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How Valuable Is Email Within Given Workplace Information Technology Essay

This report discusses research carried out to explore the relationship between the use of email and how that impacts with the communication strategy of the organisation. This research was concerned with looking at the specific function of email together with other means of communicating at work and how it was perceived by its users compared to other means of communication. I also investigated if email was the preferred medium of workplace communication.

A combined total of 19 emailed questionnaires [1] provided the primary data. The research found that there was little difference in the communication functions for which email is used. The transmission and seeking of information is its principal use followed by the making of requests. But even in this organisation where email is used extensively, face-to-face remains the preferred form of communication and dominates communication time.

The research also found that as part of its communicative functions, email plays an important role in organisational knowledge creation, and that in addition to being a useful communication tool assisting in the functional work of an organisation.

Introduction

Email use in the workplace is widespread means of communication. Email is now a fact of life in many workplaces where it has largely replaced written memos and much telephone and face-to-face interaction.

In some workplaces in the corporate world email has become the dominant communication medium, to the point that at Microsoft for example, where probably 99% of communication takes place via email, it is said that the phone never rings (Kinsley, 1996). In some workplaces email has had a major, but not always positive impact, on many aspects of workplace communication.

Email has become so commonplace in the workplace that Taylor (2004), in a study of 5 forms of computer mediated knowledge management, found 81% of workers used email at least several times a week. This makes email one of the most invasive technologies. While much research still points to the positive impacts of email on work (Bhatt, 2005), email also is conceivably, the most misunderstood means of communication.

Because email lacks many of the cues that are present in other forms of communication, it is open to wide interpretation. Where email is used indiscriminately and without the control and thought that goes into other forms of communication, it can create bad feeling and result in unproductive communication, and because more business is being conducted online, the messages may not be as clear as when telephone or face-to-face interaction is used.

Methodology

No communication medium exists in isolation. The way a member of any workplace use email is, in part, a reflection of the culture of that workplace. This research looks at the specific functions of email alongside other means of communicating in the workplace and explores how email is perceived by its users compared to other means of communicating. It also looks into if email is the preferred medium of workplace communication.

To explore what people use email for at work and how they negotiate power and social relationships to get things done using this medium, the questionnaire collected was analysed in terms of the following:

Greetings

Closing

Politeness is expressed

The nature of emails.

Greetings and closings and the nature of the emails have been chosen as particular items of this research as, in email messages, they provide instances of commonality and importance within this research.

Findings

Email is becoming almost indispensable in this workplace where it has largely replaced written memos and much telephone and face-to-face interaction. However, this research supports that while email has many advantages it is not a conclusively positive influence.

Attending to email takes up a considerable part of the working day, as indicated in Chart 1 below, with over 60% of respondent acknowledging they frequently check their email throughout the day.

Chart 1

Eleven percent of the staff surveyed reported that they spent more than 30 minutes a day on email with 16% spending over an hour a day on it. All said that they attended to their email at least several times a day, and over 35% attend to it for more than two hours a day (Chart 2), whereas over 45% spent part of their day in face to face communication (Chart 3).

Chart 2

Chart 3

The amount of time spent on email communication is likely to increase even further as nearly eighty per cent of those surveyed felt that their email use had increased over the last twelve months. Also eighty-nine per cent felt that it was important to reply promptly to email messages.

Passing on information stands out with replying to a previous message as the main use of email (see table below), with 74% and 79% respectively. Seeking an opinion as the main use of email had an 11% response rate, making it the least of the main activities in relation to using email.

Purpose

Purpose

a)       passing on information

74%

i)        thanking

0%

b)      requesting information

42%

j)        seeking an opinion

11%

c)       giving instructions

26%

k)      scheduling a meeting

26%

d)      resolving conflicts

26%

l)        replying to a previous message

79%

e)      collaborating on documents

63%

g)      offering feedback

26%

f)        making a complaint

0%

h)      making a request

53%

The research is showing that email is capable of conveying rich information. The extent to which it is able to do this though is dependent on the communication participants knowing each other and the organisation well so that they are able to actively construct meaning. Some studies also show that workplace emails do much sentimental as well as transactional work (Abdullah, 2003). However, as Brown and Lightfoot (2002) comment, email has its limitations as a communication medium.

It cannot replace face-to-face interaction; meetings are now held to discuss problems that emerge in email. This raises a question which is the extent to which email is used as opposed other forms of communication.

In terms of this organisation, email has both negative and positive effects. It enables information to be sent to large groups of people quickly and easily, but on the other hand, can cause problems when said emails have not been replied to in a fast enough manner.

Conclusions

Email is a relatively new phenomenon and has much potential to increase communication between individuals. While the benefits may be subjective, this research has highlighted some of the potential ways in which email may lead to both productive and counterproductive behaviour among work colleagues.

The research was concerned with looking at the specific functions of email alongside other means of communicating at work and how it was perceived by its users compared to other means of communication.

As part of its communication functions, email plays an important role in organisational knowledge creation, and I also found that in addition to that, it is a useful communication tool assisting in the functional work of the organisation.

The finding and seeking of information is its predominant use, followed by the making of requests and replying to previous messages. So in conclusion I found that in this organisation where email is used extensively, email and face-to-face communication are tied in the time used for these forms of communication. Email though is leading the communication when users wish to pass on information.

Email has allowed managers another communication choice. This research has revealed that their choice of media to use for any communication is a strategic one. It is influenced by many factors including the nature of the communication, the recipient and the relationship of the writer and recipient, the number of recipients, and restriction of time and distance. The sender’s character and the workplace culture are other factors central to the communication choice.

All other things being equal, email is the preferred medium for this workplace for communicating messages to groups or nationally. It is also used to send attachments, if a written record is desired, to ensure that the message gets through and to allow the recipient to reply.

Face-to-face communication is preferred for dealing with sensitive or personal issues and in some instances to show authority and that the message is important. It is used too if there is a danger of misinterpretation, especially if a quick answer is desired.

Although not widely used, it was reported that the telephone is the first choice of medium if a quick response is required of someone physically distant or to impress urgency. Overall the research suggested that the respondents of this research choose the mode of communication which best suits their personal style and which they consider the most effective for getting the job done.

Appendix A

Workplace Email Questionnaire

Email here refers to the sending and receiving of electronic messages related to your work.

It does not refer to internet communication even if work-related.

Email Use.

How long have you been using email in this workplace?

<3 months

Between 3 and 6 months

Between 6 months and 1 year

1 to 2 years

>2 years

How often did you attend to your email inbox on your most recent day at work?

(Circle one of a – e.)

All the time.

Frequently

several times

once or twice

not at all

How much time (approx) in your most recent day at work did you spend on email communication (reading, responding, and writing)? (Circle one of a – e.)

more than two hours

1-2 hours

30 minutes to 1 hour

0-30 minutes

none at all

How much time (approx) in your most recent day at work did you spend on work related face-to-face communication (discussions with colleagues, attending meetings)? (Circle one of a – e.)

more than two hours

1-2 hours

30 minutes to 1 hour

0-30 minutes

none at all

Over the last twelve months has your use of email at work (Circle one of a-c.)

Increased?

Stayed the same?

Decreased?

What work purposes do you use email for?

Mainly Frequently Sometimes Never

passing on information

requesting information

giving instructions

resolving conflicts

collaborating on documents

making a complaint

offering feedback

making a request

thanking

seeking an opinion

scheduling a meeting

replying to a previous message

Did you do any of the following activities related to work, on your most recent day at work? (Circle yes or no as appropriate.)

attend a meeting yes no

talk to someone in person yes no

speak on the telephone yes no

read and write an email yes no

write a letter, fax, memo, written note yes no

Of the answers you’ve circled, which one did you do the most of? (circle)

a b c d e

2. Attitudes to Email

This next section includes a number of statements. For each of this circle the number that best expresses your feelings.

Use the following as a guide:

1=strongly disagree

2=disagree

3=neither agree nor disagree

4=agree

5=strongly agree

Email wastes a lot of time.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

There is an expectation in this workplace that we should use email as much as possible.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

I feel happier writing email to people I know well than to people I don’t know very well.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

Email saves a lot of time.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

It is important to start email messages with a greeting and/or the person’s name.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

My fellow-workers frequently use email to communicate.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

In general I prefer people to email me rather than talk to me.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

Email has made it easier for me to communicate with management about everyday matters.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

Email has made it easier to communicate with management about matters that I would otherwise find it difficult to discuss with him/her.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

Email has improved the effectiveness of organisational communication.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

Email creates misunderstandings that phones call or meeting could prevent.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

Because people are using email more, they are talking to each other less.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

It is important to reply promptly to email messages.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

It is important to sign off email messages e.g. by using a close such as cheers and/or your name.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly disagree strongly agree

3. Email Practices

Indicate how often each of the following applies by circling the appropriate number.

I delete some email messages without reading them.

1 2 3 4 5

Never always

I think carefully about how I word my email messages.

1 2 3 4 5

Never always

Who I am communicating with at work affects my choice of form of communication.

1 2 3 4 5

Never always

I stop and rethink the message before clicking the ‘send’ command.

1 2 3 4 5

Never always

I send email messages to people who are sitting physically close to me.

1 2 3 4 5

Never always

I change the wording of other people’s messages before forwarding them on.

1 2 3 4 5

Never always

4. Communication Practices

Which form of communication do you feel should be used by yourself and others in each of these work situations? (Circle the appropriate word.)

Delivering important information

PERSON PHONE EMAIL WRITTEN

Delivering good news

PERSON PHONE EMAIL WRITTEN

Delivering bad news

PERSON PHONE EMAIL WRITTEN

You want to make a request of a manager who intimidates you.

PERSON PHONE EMAIL WRITTEN

You need to discuss a complex matter with a colleague you have had difficulties with in the past.

PERSON PHONE EMAIL WRITTEN

A colleague’s rudeness has made you angry. You want to deal with the situation.

PERSON PHONE EMAIL WRITTEN

You want to pass on a “non-negotiable” decision to someone who is likely to argue about it.

PERSON PHONE EMAIL WRITTEN

5. Information

Finally I would like to know a little about your background so I can see how different people feel about the topics about which you’ve answered questions.

1) What is your current job?

ADMIN TUTOR SUPPORT MANAGEMENT

2) Circle the hours you work: part-time (<30hrs pw) full-time (>30hrs pw)

3) Circle your gender: female male

4) Circle your age group: 16-20 26-35 45-54

21-25 36-44 over 55

5) Is English your first language? (Circle one.) Yes No

6) Circle the ethnic group(s) you feel you belong to.

New Zealand European/Pakeha New Zealand Maori

Other (such as Samoan , Chinese). Please state:

7) How long have you worked in this workplace? (state in years or months)

8) What is your highest educational qualification?(Circle one below, and please circle qualification)

No educational qualification

Secondary level qualification SC/NCEA L1 SFC/NCEA L2 UE/NCEA L3UB

Tertiary level qualification CERT DIPLOMA DEGREE MASTERS

Appendix B

Consent to Participate

Research Topic: How valuable is email within a given workplace communication strategy

I have been given and understood an explanation of this research project.

I have had an opportunity to ask questions. The answers have given me the information I need to know.

My participation is voluntary and I may withdraw myself or any information I have provided from this project before data collection and analysis is complete.

I would like to receive a summary of the results of this research when it is completed.

Yes No

(Please circle one)

I agree to take part in this research.

Signed: Date:

Name of participant

(Please print clearly)

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