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Why are we still spending more than 28 hours a week in our mailboxes?

McKinsey Global Institute released a study stating that the average American employee spends 650 hours every year writing emails, searching for information and getting in sync with co-workers. Are you wasting time getting connected with the people you work with?

According to the study, the average employee spends 28 % of his workweek writing emails, 19% researching information and 14% exchanging info with co-workers. That means that productive people spend more than 39% of their time working on things that aren’t work, and that doesn’t sound very productive to me.

In response to the time loss and organizational breakdown problem, the study highlights the use of “social technologies“, especially the adoption of a groupware application, to improve employee productivity. These groupware apps are commonly referred to as collaborative softwares or enterprise social networks (even though that term omits the most important element, the user).

In addition to the McKinsey report, an IBM study titled “Community of Practice Business Impact” reports that on average, 80% of an organization’s information is stored in the email-boxes of its employees. A lot of time is wasted searching through our files for useful information just to start working. We need to rethink the tools we use and adapt them to our current needs. Here’s the breakdown:

Social Networks

Using social tech to communicate at work is an interesting response to the age-old email-overload problem. There are so many different forms of social technologies such as blogs, social networks, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, and now collaborative (enterprise social network style) applications.

All these Web 2.0 tools allow individuals to communicate differently and radically transform the social bond between co-workers.

Social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, tap directly into one of our most basic needs, social recognition and acceptance. But the thing that nobody saw coming was just how easily the information would flow. Early on, companies took advantage of these tools to communicate with customers in real-time. Now, not only can businesses share ideas, get advice and listen to feedback, the modern consumer can also be directly involved in product design and it’s creation.

So in the end, social technologies create an added value for the customer. They provide platforms for co-creation, and breakdown the hierarchical barriers that make collaboration so difficult. But most importantly, when it comes to actually getting stuff done, they increase informational transparency. That means that everyone has access to everything they need to work, without having search through endless emails. Finally, companies are getting organized internally by implementing social tools that they can tailor to their specific needs.

So, what is the hard truth?

The hard truth is that using an internal social network increases productivity by 20 to 25% … literally. Imagine all the time that people spend getting connected, and now imagine if the people you need to talk to were already connected. Communicating, collaboration and sharing information happens in real-time.

It short, an internal social network replaces bilateral communication (email, fax, phone) because we’re already on our computers and smart phones… all day long. Plus, exchanging and storing information via social clouds automatically reduces the amount of space you dedicate to your inbox and hard drive. But the best part, companies aren’t the first ones to reap the benefits, individuals are.

Establishing new social relations and encouraging collaboration isn’t an easy thing to do. The implementing new ways to work require a change of structure, process, technology, practice and even culture. However, It’s one of those win-win situations that people are just too scared to commit to because like all relationships, it’s either all or nothing.

Now that we have the tools to make working easier, all that’s left to do is to share our knowledge and persuade our people to jump on the bandwagon.

Do you have any tips for battling email-overload? Let us know!

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