People more likely to email colleagues than talk - study

RATHER send an emoticon than say good morning? You're not alone. Almost half of us admit to sending emails rather than talking face-to-face with colleagues - even if we're sitting next to them.

And although business experts say it's more efficient and can produce better results, others warn the shallow nature of a technological chat might be making us unhappy.

Research by Microsoft found 46 per cent of people said they commonly used email to communicate with co-workers. But just 30 per cent said they would rather talk to someone directly.

Auckland University marketing lecturer Dr Bodo Lang said using email and other messaging services could help people make better decisions.

"Meetings and phone calls are synchronised so there is much more pressure. It puts people on the spot," Lang said.

"[Emails and digital messaging services] provide a huge advantage because they allow a sender to get something sent off and allow the receiver to deal with it in their own time."

But Lang said other studies suggested more time spent on digital communication meant a less happy life. "It is a bit hard to draw cause and effect but we are mammals and we are group animals.

"Digital technology allows us to connect with people around the world 24/7 but it is not physical contact, it is not face-to-face and it is a shallow experience of what could be a very rich and deep experience."

The Microsoft survey of 1000 office-based New Zealanders also revealed the grip new technology and devices have on our lives.

More than a third of us use three devices at work and home - for example, our smartphone, tablet and office computer.

Well over half of us send up to 20 emails a day and nearly one in 10 say we flick off a whopping 51-150 daily.

Keren Phillips, co-founder of tech start-up Weirdly, said it was normal for co-workers sitting opposite one another to email and message rather than talking. "It is kind of weird at the beginning because you are sitting face-to-face and you are communicating with [a colleague] in writing but it is a habit now and I can't imagine doing it any other way," Phillips said.

The company uses instant messaging and document sharing service flack. "We all stare at each other every day but really, a lot of our communication is done via flack," she said.

"I don't think our business could operate without it. We talk to each other in person when something is complicated but there are certain members of our team who prefer to communicate via flack first."

Phillips said it meant more time could be spent outside the office while still being in touch. The Microsoft survey found half of us spend up to four working hours outside the office.

"I don't have to be present in an office nine hours a day, five days a week any more and that is a dramatic shift from where we were when I started my career," said Phillips.

Microsoft spokeswoman Maria Martinez Torres said face-to-face communication was still valuable "but the trend is that increasingly technology is complementing it".

Torres said advancing technology would continue to change the workplace.

Keys to communication

  • 58 per cent send 1-20 emails a day.
  • 33 per cent send 21-50 emails a day.
  • 8 per cent send 51-150 emails a day.
  • 34 per cent use three devices between work and home.
  • 51 per cent spend 1-4 hours a week outside of the office.
  • 46 per cent use email as the main communication with colleagues.
  • 30 per cent predominantly talk face-to-face with colleagues when they are in the office.

- Herald on Sunday

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