Phones are ringing less in the workplace

About 15 years ago Kathryn Everest, a knowledge management consultant, made a phone call that seemed to upset one of her clients at a government agency in Alberta.

Unsure what she had done to offend the client, she asked for an explanation for the odd behaviour and received an unexpected answer: the government agency used e-mail for all its internal communications, and only picked up the phone for emergencies. The client wasn’t offended, just not used to corresponding on the phone.

“She was expecting that I was having some type of emergency – why would I be phoning?” said Everest, who works for Business Consulting Services with IBM Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

Today, such a response would hardly be shocking. The results of a recent survey by KRC Research Inc. shows that 44 per cent of Canadians, including Everest, pick e-mail as their workplace communication medium of choice.

The survey, E-mail Use Survey: Survey of “Professional E-mail Users” in the United States and Canada, polled 1,000 users, 500 in Canada and 500 in the U.S., and was sponsored by Oracle Corp.

The phone ranked number-two (28 per cent) as the primary form of workplace communication for Canadians. Face-to-face meetings were the next most popular at 15 per cent, followed by inter-office mail at three per cent, fax at three per cent, instant messenger (IM) at three per cent, and teleconferencing at two per cent.

“We find that [with over 35,000 employees] playing telephone tag to convey simple pieces of information can often reduce productivity, and that e-mail is a very effective tool to get messages out to a wide range of individuals,” said Michael Edmonds, a spokesperson for the BMO Financial Group in Toronto.

One British CEO disagrees. John Caudwell, CEO of Phones 4U Ltd., banned his 2,500 employees from using e-mail to communicate internally with each other, claiming that it was a drain on productivity.

However, this approach seems to be too radical for Canadians.

Both Everest and Edmonds agreed that in large organizations it isn’t practical to confine communication to the phone or to the boardroom. But both also agreed there is a dark side to e-mail – the sheer volume users receive, not only of legitimate mail, but spam as well.

Neil Schwartzmann, chair of the Canadian Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUCE) in Montreal, said that anywhere between 30 and 50 per cent of e-mail is spam. With the recent surge in e-mail borne viruses, that number has reached 70 per cent for some users.

About one-quarter of total respondents said they would receive over 200 e-mails while on a two-week vacation, with two per cent of Canadians saying they would get more than 1,000, compared to five per cent of American respondents.

“I know people who receive 200 pieces of e-mail a day and can spend hours or the whole day just clearing e-mail,” Everest said.

The solution, she said, is through implementing policies and training employees to use e-mail correctly.

The results of the survey can be found at