Recently between the power outages in the Northeast and other events, our company lost use of our email system on a Friday morning. By lost I do not mean that we can’t find it. I mean that our email system is dead. It was interesting to see what turning email off does to a company’s culture.
Most companies communicate, share and collaborate via email so losing email means that people have to change the way they work. Making that change tests the resilience of the company’s creativity, collaborative spirit, etc. While people adjusted their work to concentrate on things that did not require email, there were some interesting reactions that tell you something about the people and culture of your company.
Here are the types of behavior I observed as we all worked through this situation:
Most reliant and collaborative: “Here is my personal email address. Can I have yours so we can keep working?” That was the reaction of collaborators who remained focused on the task, engaged in their work, particularly working with people not in the same office. Now I understand that not everyone wants to send out their personal email address, but for example I have an account at Gmail that I use solely for this purpose.
Above average. These are people using the phone, instant messaging or forbid walking down the hall to talk face to face. These are the most resilient when working inside an office. They adapt and do not let the bump in the road upset them. By the way these people are the ones who do this regardless of the status of email.
Average. Email is out, so I rearranged my work to concentrate on things that do not require email. I know that means that some of my commitments will not be done on time, because of the outage, but I am going to remain productive and still get things done.
Below Average. “I could send that to you but email is down so we will have to wait until it comes back up.” This was the reaction of people who see their job as WORK. These people equate effort with importance and an issue outside of their control is not a reason to change their plans.
Least Resilient. “I am going home, emails out and therefore there is not much I can do. What is the account code I should be charging for non productive time as this is that is not my fault. Say does anyone want to go out for an early lunch?” You get the picture.
The reaction of individuals and teams to an inconvenience like losing email will tell you a lot about the culture, the people you can count on, and how people see their work. It will also provide a guide for where you need to strengthen cultural ties as a little think like email should not keep people from working with each other.