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Understanding the rhythms of email processing strategies in a network of knowledge workers

Gupta, Ashish
Scope and Method of Study: While emails have improved the communication effectiveness of knowledge workers, they have also started to negatively impact their productivity. Emails have long been known to provide value to the organization, but the influence of the overwhelming amount of information shared through emails and the inefficiencies surrounding the everyday use of emails at work has remained almost completely unanalyzed so far. Frequent announcements of new emails and then a user's checking her email leads to an escalation in the interruption issues, the resulting overall effectiveness derived from email communication needs to be re-explored. This study uses a computational modeling approach to understand how various combinations of timing-based and frequency-based email processing strategies adopted within different types of knowledge networks can influence average email response time, average primary task completion time, and the overall effectiveness, comprising value-effectiveness and time-effectiveness, in the presence of interruptions. Earlier research on the topic has focused on individual knowledge workers. This study performs a network-level analysis to compare different sender-receiver relationships to assess the impact of different overall email policies on the entire network. Computational models of three different email exchange networks were developed, namely, homogeneous networks with higher users of email, homogeneous networks with low users of email and heterogeneous networks utilizing various combinations of email strategies. A new method, referred to as forward and reverse method, to evaluate and validate model parameters is also developed.
Findings and Conclusions: Findings suggest the choice of email checking policy can impact time and value effectiveness. For example, rhythmic email processing strategies lead to lower value-effectiveness but higher time-effectiveness for all types of networks. Email response times are generally higher with rhythmic policies than with arrhythmic policies. On the other hand, primary task completion times are usually lower with rhythmic policies. On an average, organizations could potentially save 3 to 6 percent of overall time spent per day by using email strategies that are more time effective but could lose 2.5 to 3.5 percent in the communication-value. These values cumulate into significant time saving or value loss for large organizations.