Keyboards clacking away, punctuated by the periodic click of the mouse as the send icon is hit. And then a “grrr” as that next email (or ten) comes in.
Are those people being productive, generally? The answer is probably not. I never could describe exactly how to put it, until I was watching sports on TV. Then it clicked. All these office workers, sealed away in air-tight buildings away from the sun, are doing is playing sports. Corporate sports.
There’s three major sports that I can see. One’s an Olympic sport. One’s a playground sport. And one’s a twisted sport that only a picked-upon geek like me can truly appreciate.
This corporate sport is really easy to play. All you need is Outlook, a bunch of people who don’t want to talk face-to-face with each other, and cursory reading and comprehension of emails.
Start by serving over a half-accurate recap of events to CYA. (CYA isn’t a corporate sport, although it may resemble one.) Watch as a CYA gets volleyed back, usually copying in the recipient’s boss to CYA in front of them. Then one of the recipients, reading the original email in a hurry on a Blackberry or some other similar device designed to destroy productivity, answers back (again to all) on an imagined fact in the email.
Quickly everybody begins to volley back the email to the “other” department–after all, it’s not like we all work on the same team, for the same company, right? The faster you can get the email out of your box and into the other guys’ the quicker you win. The first guy to drop the ball once the CEO finally gets added to the distribution, loses.
Much like real volleyball, you end up with sore wrists and somebody ends up face-down in the sand. Usually not the guy who served up the whole mess in the first place.
Much like the schoolyard version of tag, this involves getting those emails out of your box–without actually doing anything with them, mind you–by tagging somebody else with them. Like the game of tag, it doesn’t matter who you actually tag as “it.” Just get the closest guy, tell him/her they own it, and take off.
Tag can be a lot of fun because it can also trigger games of email volleyball when one of the tagees begins to forward around the email to somebody else, who doesn’t read it completely, copies in the boss and….
I grew up playing–or being the target of, I’m not really sure–this game in Central New York years ago. In this demented schoolyard ritual, you get a tennis ball and a bunch of people, usually boys. The name of the game was to run around, chasing people with the ball and firing it at their head as hard as you could. Bonus points if they wore glasses and you could knock the glasses off their head and knock them down at the same time.
In email, this game is played by blaming the recipient and–bonus points–figuring out how to have the CEO or division exec in the email trail to heap further humiliation on the recipient. Who’s usually a guy in IT just trying to do his job when a squirrel chews through a cable. Hey stuff happens, but what good is it if you can’t blame somebody for the randomness of the world?
So what should you do? How about getting exercise by standing up and walking over to talk to people? Much healthier for you and–bonus points!–it generates less email, meaning you can do the work. Everybody wins!