About three years ago, my company tried an experiment: We declared a “no email day” for an entire weekday. The whole office powered down our inboxes completely. We didn’t just turn off alerts and notifications—we all set out-of-office auto-responses and went cold turkey.
It was such a success that we’re still doing it once a quarter. Maybe you should, too.
Why We Ditched Email For A Day
Think about all the miscommunication that happens when you text a friend, message a coworker on Slack or a similar platform, or email a client. Those misfires are just about inevitable. There are so many instances when someone reads an email and thinks a client is upset, or that a coworker or manager is mad—when really that isn’t the case at all. Maybe they were simply being direct or forgot to include an exclamation point.
But these small misinterpretations can cause a surprising amount of angst. You might spend half the day analyzing and overthinking somebody’s email: Are they mad? Did I write something that upset them? By scrapping emailing for a whole workday companywide, we wanted to see if we could cut down on some of these issues on a regular basis. Not only did it turn out that we could, but we’ve since gotten a lot better at live communication, face-to-face dialogue, and collaboration—all skills that the future of the workforce depends on.
How It Works
To keep this habit working well for everyone, we’ve had to set some ground rules: First, we don’t stick to the same weekday. We’ll look at our schedules and declare a different no-email day every time we do it. This helps give us the flexibility to actually stick to the regimen.
Second, email is off limits from 8 a.m.—5 p.m., except for two 20-minute breaks, but they’re meant to check for emergencies only—these aren’t active email periods. Anything outside of those nine hours is fair game.
And third, everybody on staff sets an out-of-office message explaining what we’re doing and asking those emailing to call us instead. Here’s an example:
It’s no-email day at LaSalle Network! Today we’re embracing live communication and collaboration. I’m here, just not in my inbox . . . call me! I want to hear from you! [team member’s phone number]
We regroup as a company afterward to talk about the pros and cons from the day.
It’s not perfect. We’ve had people who do get upset or don’t understand why we do it, but overall it’s helping build camaraderie among employees. And most of our clients and vendors have been really supportive.
What It’s Taught Us
We move faster. If we need to get in touch with a client, we don’t send them an email and wait to hear back—we pick up the phone. It can solve an issue or answer a question in a matter of minutes as opposed to waiting hours or even days for an email response. We don’t IM our coworkers, either, though—we swing by their desks or call them to get an answer or feedback.
It builds relationships. I’ve always believed in live communication—phone, in-person, or video. You’re able to have better dialogue because you can see someone’s reaction and hear the inflection in their voice. Relationships are built from real conversations, not endless chains of back-and-forth emails.
We’re more creative. Live collaboration allows us to be more creative. When talking through an issue, we’re faster at coming up with possible solutions and generating new ideas. If there’s something to resolve, we get together for a live brainstorm as opposed to creating a five-person chat group.
We learn faster. It’s easy to hide in your inbox, especially when there’s a client issue. The best results can come from picking up the phone to talk through something tricky with a client or vendor. It can truly make or break the relationship. It shows you care. It shows you’re not hiding and that you own it. Most of all, it shows they matter to you.
It encourages “CBE”: Something we practice internally every day is “call before email” (CBE). We even have “CBE” signs hanging above our desks, and this no-email day every week really puts that practice to the test (minus the email part, obviously).
We’re more energized and productive: For three years running, I’m still amazed that the energy in the office is electric on no-email days. People are up from their desks, jetting throughout the office to go talk with their coworkers or pick up calls. And we’re a lot more productive that way—we’re just more efficient and seem to get everything done faster.
Sometimes we need to be reminded of the great things that can come from in-person communication. I know this type of thing won’t work for every company, but it never hurts to experiment. If not a no-email day, there’s probably something you can do to give your whole team a jolt of energy on a regular basis—and it probably isn’t high-tech.
Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a national staffing, recruiting, and culture firm.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that LaSalle institutes a no-email day on a weekly basis, when in fact the company does so quarterly.