Checking email during meetings isn’t necessarily a bad habit

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From emails to instant messaging, today’s workers have a multitude of tools at their disposal for communicating within the workplace. However, experts believe that this multiplication of communication channels can have a negative impact on employees’ health and the quality of their work. These fears are somewhat allayed by new British-Canadian research.

This research, published in the journal Computers In Human Behavior Reports, looks at what is commonly known as “multicommunication”. This term refers to the propensity of certain professionals, caught up in the flow of notifications, to use several communication tools simultaneously.

Sit in on almost any company meeting and you’ll soon realise that most participants are reading or sending emails or messages, rather than playing an active part in the discussion. This practice is not confined to meetings.

On a day-to-day basis, employees are regularly interrupted in their tasks by communications-based demands and have to multitask. But switching from one task to another in a very short space of time is cognitively demanding. This way of working undermines our attention span and our efficiency, which can become a source of frustration.

Multicommunication with moderation

However, a British-Canadian research team claims that multicommunication can be a good thing. It can even be an asset if it is directly linked to the main task an employee has to perform.

Checking social networks during a meeting, for example, can be useful if this brief moment of inattention leads to ideas that will enrich the discussion.

In other words, multicommunication can be beneficial to the person who indulges in it, if it helps them gain a better understanding of the subject on which they are working, or if it contributes to making their discussions with their peers more meaningful.

“On the surface, it’s easy to place a negative connotation on multicommunicating. But we need to focus on how people manage their multicommunicating rather than the behaviour itself,” study co-author, Jinglu Jiang, says in a statement.

To achieve this, it’s important that employees feel free not to be hyper-reactive. Some tasks are more complex than others, requiring a higher level of concentration. It may be relatively easy to reply to a text message when you’re sorting through your work email inbox, but much less so when you’re chairing a meeting.

Jiang and colleagues believe that employers, and more specifically managers, can take action to ensure that multicommunication does not become detrimental. They can, for example, regulate the flow of emails – especially in-house – and subject instant messaging to rules designed to ensure sufficient moments for concentration with minimal distraction.

“Properly managing this behavior at the individual and team levels makes the difference between multicommunication as a distraction and multicommunication as an asset,” concludes Jiang. – AFP Relaxnews

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