Reimagining Collaboration Wins International Book Award.

Phil Simon

Award-Winning AuthorDynamic Keynote Speaker
Workplace-Technology Guru • Advisor Professor

On Restrooms and Eye Glasses: An E-Mail Parable

Constant and unnecessary distractions add up, even if they are momentary ones.
Feb | 12 | 2015

A while back, I flew home from a conference and sat next to the chief operating officer of an 800-person company. (Call him Steve here). We started chatting about business communication and he remarked that he receives upwards of 300 e-mails per day. Every day.

I asked Steve if all of the those messages were important and he chuckled. Many of them weren’t—maybe even most, he told me. Intrigued, I asked him for a recent example of a completely superfluous message.

It turns out that a female employee left a pair of glasses in the women’s restroom at his company. She understandably wanted to know if anyone had found them. To that end, she then sent a message to 800 people via the company’s “all employee” e-mail address.

I then asked Steve the following questions:

  • Does his company track employee gender in its HR/payroll system (Answer: Yes.)
  • About what percentage of employees are men? (Answer: More than half.)
  • Are the bathrooms at his organization unisex? (Answer: No.)
  • Do men often sneak into the women’s lavatory? (Answer: No.)
  • Is a male employee likely to find these glasses? (Answer: No.)
  • So why did more than 400 men need to receive this woman’s e-mail? (Answer: Good question.)

I asked Steve if there was at least a separate corporate inbox (or, better yet, a truly collaborative tool) that would let people post and claim lost items. There wasn’t. Steve correctly sensed an opportunity to lighten his e-mail load.

This isn’t 1995. There are other effective communication tools beyond e-mail.

Simon Says

Requests like these are very common and innocuous, but they underscore a number of serious communications issues.

No, unnecessarily diverting the attention of 400 employees for a few seconds certainly isn’t the end of the world. Make no mistake, though, constant distractions such as these add up, even if they are fleeting ones. They contribute to a feeling of being overwhelmed. They reinforce the misguided belief that e-mail should always serve as the universal internal communications mechanism for everything.


What say you?

Enjoy this post? Click here to subscribe to this RSS feed or here to sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter.


Filed Under

Related Posts


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *