Could an 'hour of power' save you and your agency from email stress?

It’s a well-known frustration that we as agencies spend so much time focusing on our clients that we sometimes end up neglecting ourselves.

You hear agency marketing directors talk about it time and time again – that people don’t get them, that they don’t understand that you need to give the agency proposition and internal communications the care and attention it deserves.

And you often hear of agencies who end up falling from grace ruing the fact they took their eye off the ball internally. Maybe they lost talented staff members because of a lack of a distinct culture. Maybe they failed to move with the times and had antiquated processes that struggled to keep up with the changing landscape.

The business of business can be fascinating. And it’s something the best companies take advantage of in an effort to truly thrive.

At Partners Andrews Aldridge, we have a technology and innovation team who have taken it up as a challenge to do just that. They’re in the process of holding a series of what we call ‘ReThink’ sessions to explore new ways of working.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a sell for the T&I team, Partners, or any products that may be borne off the back of it.

But I do think that you’ll find some of the findings of our first experiment interesting. Because we looked at something that we all seem to be addicted to and incensed by in equal measure. Email.

If you’re reading this article towards the end of the working day, then chances are you’ll have checked your email around 77 times today so far. If you’re a typical employee, you’ll have ignored approximately 70 per cent of those. And you’ll probably be in the 65 per cent that think you receive far too many.

Indeed, tests have proven that those of us who succumb to ‘telepressure’ – that is, the urge to respond immediately to work-related messages – are more likely to suffer from poor sleep, increased burnout, higher anxiety and health-related absence.

To counter this, we launched an experiment – the Hour of Power. Nice name, huh? But for good reason. We wanted to break the cycle. To see whether we could between 9am and 10am every day for two weeks make Partners an email-free zone. Instead we used that one-hour each morning to brainstorm ideas, write articles, create briefs and read industry reports. All free from pesky email distractions.

Of course it’s a big ask to change behaviour just like that. And admittedly not every agency member participated – we were greeted with some looks of scepticism probably fairly akin to the cynical face you’re pulling now.

But for those that did participate we conducted two surveys – one before and one after the experiment – and found that 63 per cent felt less stressed, more focused and more productive afterwards.

Obviously we can’t get rid of email completely, and obviously in a high-octane work environment such as advertising there will be times where you can’t completely switch off from email. However our experiments did garner some final principles that I thought worth sharing.

Batch your emails – even if it’s not during the 9am-10am ‘hour of power’. You might think by responding on demand you’re able to manage various important activities on the fly, but MIT research has proved that those who juggle electronic tasks don’t switch between jobs as well as those who just complete one task at a time. You’re not multitasking, you’re just moving from one task to another very rapidly. And that’s pointless.

Again, I can hear account managers shuddering at the thought of not being always available to their client. But from our experiment we found that 76 per cent of people felt that clients don’t expect a response for at least two hours. By which time you’ll be back online having spent a good period of time dedicated to solving actual problems.

Turn off notifications – We found that 70 per cent of Partners never turned off their email notifications. This results in additional telepressure, and we all now know how detrimental that can be. Again we acknowledge that there are extenuating factors here, so instead of going completely cold turkey, why not consider creating ‘rules’ – actions that run automatically on messages – where, for example, you can ensure that if a sender is not from a list of specified contacts, a notification won’t appear. Simple.

Finally, manage expectations. We know this is a big step. But we also know the benefits. So ensure the people who need to know about your approach are fully clued up. Add it to your signature or out of office.

Who knows, those people may then follow suit. And we may embark on a far more productive world.

Matt Williams is head of creative content at Partners Andrews Aldridge

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