There are many reasons why managers might prefer management by email (MBE). It is an efficient communication tool. It impacts teambuilding, a critical atom of organizational culture.
Email is a great example of the difference between efficient and effective. Its efficiency comes at the cost of effectiveness. This is seen in building relationships.
Alex “Sandy” Pentland cites his research in “The New Science of Building Great Teams”. He concludes that “the most valuable form of communication is face-to-face” and “email and texting are the least valuable.”
What does he mean by valuable though? He looks at teams. MBE harms teambuilding. Using email comes at the expense of the teambuilding glue: relationships. This shows up most as lower team engagement.
Walter Isaacson writes “Engage Face-to-Face” as one of “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs”. Isaacson claims Jobs “knew all too well [the digital age’s] potential to be isolating.” Emails focus on ideas and thoughts. These do not flourish if relationships are mediocre.
Balancing Management by Email with Phone and Face-To-Face
This does not mean we do not use email. Pentland says there is a balance. He does not say what that balance is though. (This is probably for proprietary reasons.)
From my experience and research, in terms of time, a good phone and face-to-face (FTF) percentage will be in the 35-60% range. We can quantify email time as reading time. The average adult reads 300 words per minute.
Emails will still make up most interactions. Phone and FTF will be fewer but longer. Logistics will vary this percentage. For scattered teams, phone will substitute for FTF. Using the same content, phone calls are about half the time of FTF meetings.
These interactions do not have to be all business. It is better if they are not. They can be part of an overall teambuilding plan. Discussing vacation and family are effective teambuilding topics. There are many other tools.
There is power in our personalities. It comes to us free of charge. We use that power best in person.
Related post: Dealing with Bosses Who Manage by Email (MBE)