They pop in your mailbox. You get more of them a day than you can absorb and remember. They don’t communicate much of value or interest – but they are there and impact your effectiveness. Like it or not, you have to read and respond to them or consciously ignore them. You’ve probably stored thousands of them, wasting server space and money. They steal time, focus, and attention. Each day they bleed off a few minutes of your productivity. Over time, you take the disruptions and annoyance they spawn for granted, assuming it’s just part of your world of work.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve been spammed. We all have. And I’m not talking about the commercial messages you get every day. Those are easy enough to manage. You delete them or unsubscribe. Do the latter and your box clears until another mass marketer gets hold of your email address.
No, what I’m talking about is what I call co-spam: unwanted and unnecessary emails and social media alerts sent by colleagues, coworkers, or our company. That problem is much harder to deal with than commercial spam, as the motives are often benign and, to the sender, harmlessly habitual if not important (at least in their eyes).
There’s a cottage industry of experts arising on how to manage social media at work. Most are referring to postings sent and received on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other sites. If someone has addressed the issue of co-spam, as the genesis of social media practices and problems, I have yet to see it. But it’s more of a time zapper and cost generator than the annoying commercial variety.
Here are several key forms of co-spam that need to be curbed on the job.
- Jokes, cartoons and political commentaries – Let’s assume we agree that any transmissions of a racial, sexual, or similar potential inflammatory nature are off limits. What’s the point of sending out harmless jokes, even if no one wants to or has time to read them? Don’t we all have friends who seem compelled to forward every supposedly clever comment someone else has sent them, virtually the instant they have read it?
- Covering your position – People often send responses or initial transmissions with the idea of documenting their position on an important matter. They’ll copy everyone who has even the most minor relationship to a particular issue. This doesn’t do much other than irk those who believe the purpose of the email is either plaintiff’s or defendant’s exhibit 1 in an upcoming claim or discussion about a workplace problem. Can you imagine how much productivity we’d gain if we stopped sending emails to people who don’t need to get them?
- Open deadlines – The purpose of many emails, texts, etc., is often unclear. That leads to a flurry of additional messages trying to clarify the first one! Don’t send an email unless you can clearly spell out what the recipient is supposed to do (e.g., use the information for some purpose, get back to you with their input).
- Respond to sender verifying we got what was sent – Many of us, including me, feel compelled to acknowledge every communication, even when there’s no reason to do so. You might need to confirm receipt of email or texts from contacts outside your company (if they or you want to be certain a message got through). But otherwise, eliminate all confirmation messages in your company unless the sender specifically asks for one.
- The last word – arguments often start with back and forth communication which grows into a barrage of escalating counter responses. Senders write what they would never say and recipients misconstrue the intent of innocent comments. Ensuing bad feelings and wasted time could have been avoided had someone thought to walk down the hall or pick up the phone.
Part of creating a civil workplace is respecting everyone’s time and, increasingly, attention. Limiting our co-spamming habits should be included in the definition of what civility means in our increasingly connected world of work.