Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Respecting Time and Space May Lead to Better Management and Better Outcomes

An interesting new article appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education:  What Happened When the Dean’s Office Stopped Sending Emails After-Hours, by Andrew D. Martin, dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan and a professor of political science and statistics, and Anne Curzan associate dean for humanities and a professor of English. Interesting concept, and an idea worth considering.  Here's what they tried: 

What if we experimented with a policy that set some limits in the dean’s office? Here’s what we came up with:

  • Limit email traffic to working hours. Except for emergencies, work emails are to be sent between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Use the delayed-send function to ensure that emails to and from people working in the dean’s office arrive only within that window.
  • Try to communicate in person. Whenever possible, associate and assistant deans should communicate with one another and with other professional staff employees in person or by telephone during the business day. Our administrative assistants can help us find quick drop-in times.
  • Avoid email forwarding. Refrain from forwarding an email to chairs and directors and asking them to forward it to others. When possible, send it yourself directly to the audience you want to communicate with.
  • Respect working hours. The dean and the associate and assistant deans should not expect — or request — support from professional staff employees outside of the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. window. An exception is for emergencies, and then only from salaried staff members.

The authors say the rules became part of the dean's office's culture, and although it was not enforced, it is largely followed and has led to more efficient and effective work.  

I have to admit, I think it would be hard, and I am notoriously bad for being almost tethered to my email. But I can also see why it would help.  I feel absolutely compelled to reply to inquiries and requests. Sometimes I resist the urge to do so, but even then, my mental space has been taken up by obligations.  It's not ideal. More important, it means that when I am sending emails after hours, I am getting into other people's space when it is not necessary.  Emergencies are one thing, and they happen, but I can definitely do a better job of staying out of people's personal time, and I am going to give it a try. 


Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, Management | Permalink


Thanks for this, Josh. I have been thinking a lot about e-mail and online time this summer. I may do a follow-up post. There is such a wide range within universities. Some professors seem to just ignore e-mails for very long stretches and are extremely tough to get in touch with. Others (like you and Joan) seem to usually respond within minutes. Oddly, those who check e-mail more frequently seem to also be more productive. But I do wonder what is the ideal amount of time spent online and on email for a professor.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Jun 20, 2018 9:14:38 AM

Anecdotally, I know at least one company whose email policy seems to both allow for the email anytimers (like Josh) while respecting the working hours of others. The policy was that any email that comes in after 8pm does not--by default--require an answer until the next working day. This policy seems to allow those to want to send emails at 3am to do so, but removes the onus on the recipient to answer immediately. When I heard about this, I was at a large law firm where this was definitely not the default assumption. It felt so much more reasonable.

As you might expect, the sender could indicate that immediate attention was required, but those emails seemed rare.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Jun 22, 2018 5:41:06 PM

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