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E-mail deletes, saves time

July 9, 2001

Patricia Crawford easily spends two hours reading and responding to e-mail each day at her office at Wells Fargo Bank in Des Moines.

It's par for the course for the senior vice president and director of marketing to get more than 100 e-mails daily.

"If I walk away from my desk for an hour," Crawford said, "I can come back and find 16 new messages."

Crawford has company. E-mail usage in the workplace has exploded, growing 600 percent in the past six years. A study by Rogen International and Goldhaber Research Associates showed that 4 trillion e-mails are sent worldwide every year.

"The use and preference for e-mail is not surprising given that most studies now show that e-mail is the major reason for computer users to go online," said Gerald Goldhaber, president of Goldhaber Research of Amherst, N.Y.

E-mail is cost efficient, quick and the best way to disseminate information to many people. It also is "reducing scaled heights within organizations and giving workers access to people they've never had access to before," Goldhaber said. A company janitor can e-mail the chief executive of a company and likely get a prompt response, he said.

Executives and managers spend about two hours a day receiving, checking, preparing and sending e-mails, research shows.

"It is a blessing and a curse," Crawford said. She relies on e-mail to distribute information in a timely manner to co-workers who may be in offices in other states.

"It minimizes the need and number of face-to-face meetings," Crawford said.

Nonetheless, the Rogen study of 1,400 senior and mid-level executives showed that in-person meetings have maintained their importance in the business world. Executives spend an average of two hours and 10 minutes a day in formal and face-to-face meetings.

"It may be that warm flesh still beats cold plastic for many business decisions," Goldhaber said.

Robert E. Turner, a Des Moines communications consultant, said e-mail is changing the way people communicate.

"A person I know works in an office and e-mails someone in the next cubicle four feet away rather than talk to them because she wants written documentation," Turner said.

E-mail has been criticized as a substitute for human interaction, yet Turner contends it's just another form of interaction.

"To the point of exclusion of human interaction, that would probably be out of balance," he said.

Michael Sadler, regulatory affairs and local markets manager at Qwest in Des Moines, said there will always be a need for face-to-face meetings because people need to gauge body language and facial expressions during a conversation.

"But e-mails are a nice complement," he said.

He's a huge fan of electronic messaging because it gives him control over when he responds to a message.

"And I can go through my e-mail at home at my leisure," he said. He generally will spend two or three nights a week with a laptop at home catching up on work-related e-mail, he said.

With the volume of e-mail being sent, people have become savvy monitors. Some know which messages need immediate responses, which likely can be skimmed and which can be deleted without scanning.

"Sometimes you get on a distribution list you don't need to be on and I wonder, "Why do I need to know this?" " said Crawford. She generally reads enough of each e-mail message to determine whether she needs to respond or take other action.

Scott Valbert, employee communications consultant at the Principal Financial Group, uses e-mail as a regular part of his job as editor of an internal monthly publication called Comment.

He is able to edit stories and send out articles for approval without having to make hard copies and send them by traditional mail.

"I can cover everyone with one fell swoop," he said. "Otherwise it would take a lot more time."

Nearly 1 million e-mail messages are delivered within the company each day. About 40,000 are sent outside the company and 56,000 are received from external senders daily, according to company statistics.

"I use it all the time," Valbert said. "And I am one who responds immediately."

Valbert also spends about 45 minutes to an hour reading and sending personal e-mail when he gets home at night.

"And it's one of the first things I do when I get up in the morning," he said. E-mail saves on long-distance bills and "allows me to keep in touch with people" outside the state and country, he said.

When to use e-mail

* To deliver a message quickly. That doesn't always mean the reader will provide a quick response, though.

* To communicate directly with a decision-maker instead of wading through several assistants. Most bosses don't have someone screening their e-mail.

* To communicate with a colleague or customer who is in a different time zone.

When not to use e-mail

* If a message is confidential; most e-mail systems are not secure.

* For negotiations. E-mail doesn't allow the sender to observe the recipient's body language or immediate reactions.

* To distribute bad news, especially concerning company operations.

* If you need or expect an immediate answer. Some people don't check their e-mail regularly and may not respond promptly.


By PATT JOHNSON, Copyright © 2001, The Des Moines Register.


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