Does E-Mail Really Make You Happy?

e-mail, communication, enterprise, tech support
Illustration: Jeffrey Pelo
While a survey of Canadian chief information officers showed the preferred mode of communication among IT staff is e-mail, this may not be the best way to gauge employee satisfaction, according to an executive with Robert Half Technology International.

The study by the Toronto-based IT staffing firm, based on interviews with more than 270 CIOs from across Canada, found that 49 per cent of respondents preferred using e-mail to communicate with each other at work.

"I find it sad that it's 49 per cent," said Sandra Lavoy, Ottawa-based regional vice-president with Robert Half Technology. The issue with using e-mail, said Lavoy, is it doesn't allow the reader to assess the sender's tone as easily as it would be on the phone or face-to-face.

E-mail archiving lets businesses manage correspondence.E-mail is, however, a good mode of communication for quick exchanges and maintaining written records of certain decisions, for instance, when deciding the date of a project deadline or arranging a meeting time, said Lavoy. E-mail also works well for following up on previous conversations, she added.

The study also found that the preference for in-person conversations was 34 per cent and phone calls was six per cent.

Lavoy thinks that CIOs probably rank e-mail higher than face-to-face and phone conversations simply because they often rely on mobile devices like Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry to stay in touch with the office when they're on the road. Besides, she said, it's common now for employees to travel frequently and have to communicate across different time zones, or have flexible work arrangements that allow them to work from home or work an irregular work day.

"But the problem in this volatile market that we're in is it's really important for us as employers to make sure we have these face-to-face discussions," said Lavoy. "The No. 1 reason why employees leave is lack of recognition; that could be something we're not addressing."

Given that the use of mobile devices like BlackBerrys is common across all organizations, the study did not find any variation in attitudes between CIOs from different-sized companies.

Respondents also reported their preference for instant messaging to be on par with phone calls.

Lavoy said that, given the state of the economy, businesses would benefit from face-to-face collaboration channels like videoconferencing and conference calls that allow "if you're going to have a discussion with multiple people and you want to get some resolution quickly."

However, Lavoy acknowledged that even videoconferences and conference calls lack that human touch because often there is a large number of attendees on the call with just one moderator to direct the proceedings.

Despite these findings, however, respondents still found that the prevalence of new technologies like handheld devices, instant messaging and text messaging in the workplace enabled better connectivity overall. Thirty-one per cent of interviewees said they felt much more connected and 26 per cent reported being somewhat more connected.

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