The ‘always on’ CIO

Email is a necessary evil in the workplace and as the CIO, it is important that you understand the subtle nuances of using this tool
  • David Gee (Computerworld)
  • 08 February, 2018 09:31

Today’s CIO is expected to have the email disease and be 24/7 in ‘on’ mode.  It is a behavior that is easy to spot in the office and on the move.  We all see people on the street and in the workplace that are constantly tapping on their smart devices.

It is an unwritten rule, but for the executive it feels like that as part of your duties you are expected to be answering emails at all hours of the day.

I’ve seen mothers and fathers at the playground doing this and not really paying attention to their kids.  The basic question is when to email and when to stop? 

Your boss rules

Your boss will often will dictate the preferred model of communication – phone, email, text or face-to-face. There is always a preferred mode and this becomes the norm for daily communications.

Again this is both unspoken and unwritten, but we all tend to know what the boss likes.  Your boss will have his or her own approach to email – when these are sent and how verbose these are.  In the worse cases, the boss will have verbal diarrhea and send a stream of short messages that are not easy to interpret.

My advice is to be aware of these traits, but don’t feel obliged to copy the approach.  The most important aspect to focus on is how to best communicate with the boss and through which channel.

Make your own rules

I’ve worked with executives who operate differently and there is no right or wrong approach. While most senior executives are expected to work long hours, there are some who choose not to be contactable during weekends or evenings.

As a CIO, you have to be aware of the personal preferences of your team and only cross the line when there is an emergency or critical project/support issue.  To me respecting these differences will help your colleagues achieve a work-life balance.

There will be moments when you receive an email at 2am in the morning from a peer or your own boss.  Then you have to decide: Do I send a message back immediately, draft a response to review in the morning, or simply acknowledge the note for follow-up action.

There is no real right or wrong answer. But don’t merely copy what the boss does.

Crafting the message

In today’s corporate world, a lot of effort that goes into crafting the message.  An important communication for an executive will have multiple editors who provide input and help massage the message.

Often in these times, the old adage “too many cooks spoil the broth” will apply and the simple message can become complex and clumsy. In these cases, we have over-cooked the task and the message becomes unclear because it wants to appeal to every stakeholder.

Remember as the CIO, that this is your message and you have the final say on this.

Your voice

Like any communication, your email has a personal voice with a specific tone and sentiment.  If the message is written hastily then it is very likely that it will look rushed and be interpreted to be harsh.

There will many times where you shouldn’t even be responding on this medium. Perhaps a phone call is a better option than writing a long and laborious email, the tone of which may be misinterpreted.

Too little or too much

Conversely a message that is too long will extract a very different response to a short message that appears curt.  The length will send a stronger message than you realise about how passionate you when it comes to a particular topic. Just remember that your voice on email always seems more severe that what is said in a face-to-face situation. 

I’ve seen staff members typing furiously and tapping firmly on their smart devices; it is not hard to recognise that they are dealing with a crisis.


Email is a necessary evil in the workplace and as the CIO, it is important that you understand the subtle nuances of using this tool. When an unsolicited email from a staff member is sent to you directly, it requires a certain degree of courage. Best, then, to honour that with a response that matches what you would expect yourself.

I’ve found in these cases that you should both respond in writing and also in the hallway.  When you seek out the person and thank them for the note and thoughts, even if you don’t agree with their recommendation, it has an incredible impact.

As the CIO this is about being respectful of others and creating a culture that reflects this objective. Just imagine how one would feel in crafting a message and then there is no or a slow response. The respect that you show to others reflects what you can expect from the team.