We've all experienced it. The phone, e-mail and fax never stopping.
The endless list of people to call back or contact. The constant interruptions to our work and thought flow. And all for what? Often a message duplicated across two or more media. The constant bombardment that, at times, feels like stalking and prompts a desire to reach for the 'off' button.
If figures from Pitney Bowes are to be believed, we are hitting communications overload. Its research suggests that individual companies may be spending up to £72 million a year on messaging and that the average Fortune 1000 employee sends 95 messages a day and receives 83. What's more, 'it's big now and rising exponentially', says John Moroney, a principal consultant on new media with telecoms market research company Ovum. As he observes, 'Messages used to be point-to-point but now people have the ability to broadcast, it is the receiving end that is bearing all the cost.'
Meredith Fischer, vice president of corporate marketing at Pitney Bowles, agrees: 'We are guided by the desire of the sender, not the recipient.
In the long run, this is probably not the most convenient for the communications cycle.' She is concerned by what she describes as the 'emotional toll' that communications are taking on individual employees. As she points out: 'Decisions are often made at levels where individual workers have very little say. The technology arrives on their desks and then they have to work out how to fit it in.' She believes that, as they start to feel overwhelmed, many employees end up to avoiding communications, real-time or otherwise.
Graeme Allen, managing director of Bay Networks, a hardware communications and networking company recognises that, for stressed employees, this 'emotional strain could turn to paranoia'. But he believes that businesses should not lose sight of the fact that 'the advent of technology generally has increased the variety of ways of communicating but that in itself does not equal a communications overload'. Instead, he claims, it gives businesses versatility and produces immense time and cost savings, as well as productivity advantages. 'The absolute net effect is positive for businesses.'
Nevertheless, while businesses should reap the benefits of this variety of media, they should not fail in their duties to their employees. As he suggests: 'It is all very well for businesses to introduce a multiplicity of communications and tools but the onus is on management to educate and train its employees in their use and to establish policies and disciplines.
It is not every employee's responsibility to read, absorb and act on every message. They have to understand that.'
'Companies need to develop a strategy to deal with and identify the information that enables (their employees) to do their jobs,' affirms Moroney. Businesses need to 'map their communications, create a common communications culture, learn the relative costs and speed of different methods and make smart choices', adds Fisher. Having established a satisfactory internal balance, they should then talk with the recipients of their messsages about what is most effective for them and adapt their communications for each culture.