In the port city of Liverpool, England, speak 60 languages. In its 795-year history, verbal communication has never posed a problem. (Recall that Liverpool’s own, The Beatles, sang “She Said, She Said.”) But at the Liverpool City Council, the city’s largest employer, this knack for yapping had met a formidable foe: the silence of electronic mail.
Internal and outgoing e-mail traffic at the City Council had doubled from 50,000 daily e-mails sent to 100,000 in just the past six months, and city government managers noted that their 19,500 employees throughout scores of city buildings were shying away from face-to-face interaction, relying more on monitor-to-monitor interaction instead.
City officials concluded that something needed to be done. “E-mail traffic has doubled, and employees can simply pass problems on, batting them off into cyberspace instead of taking care of them,” says council Chief Executive David Henshaw. “There is a need for accountability.”
On July 10, the city instituted an e-mail ban on Wednesdays. Urgent messages and attachments can still be sent electronically, but workers were instructed to avoid asking questions, setting up meetings or even participating in idle chitchat over e-mail. Instead, they were directed to pick up the phone or?get this?stand up and talk to the person face-to-face. “The idea is not about establishing an e-mail police but rather to get people to think before they send e-mails,” says Paul Johnston, a city spokesman. “People are exchanging e-mails with coworkers who sit only six feet away.”
Wednesdays are a bit more vibrant around the office since the e-mail ban, despite some initial worker skepticism. The e-message count that day is down about 70 percent. Phones are ringing more often. Hallway traffic is appearing.
As for the rest of the week? Traffic has stayed steady at 100,000 e-mails sent daily. Surprisingly, Henshaw says the city hasn’t seen any inbox buildup on Tuesdays or Thursdays, and there is even anecdotal evidence that suggests productivity has risen on Wednesdays. “The full inbox has become the new oppressor in the workplace,” says Henshaw. “We embrace technology here, but we won’t let it take over.”