Did you get my e-mail?

Remarkably, e-mail is the one technology that has managed to revolutionise global communication while at the same time making the workplace a lonelier place. Enslaved by e-mail, most desk-bound office workers spend more time frantically sending, receiving and writing e-mail than they do in actual face-to-face conversations.

I'm the first to admit that I am guilty of contributing to this sad state of affairs.

In fact, when I think about it I have some pretty candid relationships with recipients on my e-mail list but couldn't pick them out in a crowded street to save my life, simply because we have never met. My daily exchanges with work colleagues are often reduced to harried two-sentence e-mail replies and we work within a five-metre radius of each other.

And if you think that is ridiculous consider this.

Days can pass without us uttering a single word to each other but you can bet we have exchanged at least 20 e-mails in that same period of time.

Scary isn't it? And the flawed logic I use to justify this ludicrous behaviour is that I'm too busy to leave my desk.

I'm afraid I will lose two minutes of my day getting out of my chair but will readily exchange 10 e-mails with the same person to clarify a single point.

But then again, we humans have always been good at complicating our existence.

Insane as it may seem some IT managers have been reduced to enforcing policy that encourages employees to make human contact in the workplace.

One IT manager in the health services industry claims solutions to simple problems - previously dealt with by walking across the corridor and talking to colleagues - have become a thing of the past.

But he has come up with a pretty innovative idea to facilitate more human contact - "e-mail free Fridays".

Claiming it is an important part of the company's corporate culture, he says e-mail free Fridays are actually working and creating greater camaraderie among staff. The added bonus is that it reduces stress.

The occasional work conversation can inevitably lead to a bit of chit-chat about sport, the weekend or the latest episode of Sex and the City.

This meaningless chatter can break up an otherwise stressful day.

But most surprising of all when I spoke to other IT managers about "e-mail isolation" I realised that e-mail free Fridays are not so unusual.

One company I spoke to has a "three e-mail limit" which basically means if you have already sent three e-mails to the same person on a particular subject you must get out of your chair, walk down the office and actually speak to them.

She says encouraging this workplace policy has actually been fun: "Most IT initiatives that involve end users are not fun, but this one has created a real buzz in the office and stopped staff being totally tied to their desks."

And you know what? It really does work. In the past week I have ditched that tired, lame excuse of being too busy to talk and have begun weaning myself off e-mail.

I now know that the guy down the hall handweaves baskets, that Susan in the accounting department speaks French and that I'm not the only person in the office that has a passion for red stilettos. Are you enslaved or liberated by e-mail? Drop me a line at sandra_rossi@idg.com.au

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