For one week, I responded to all email and chat communication I received by getting up and walking over to my coworkers’ desks to initiate a verbal conversation. My approach was to pop up immediately and unexpectedly, like a G-chat personified.
Our very fast-paced office basically runs on email and various forms of chat, so this was definitely a surprise to most colleagues.
During the experiment, I felt that my days were much more dynamic, my work was more creative, I had greater concentration levels and I accomplished more. But I also most likely annoyed my colleagues. Evidence below.
But my relationships were also strengthened. Ditching computer talk for people talk inevitably meant work conversations drifted into other topics such as yoga, whether it's safe to eat Chipotle yet, the broken prison system and how a young Fidel Castro looks like every dude in Brooklyn. I am truly convinced this kind of edification and entertainment would never casually have happened electronically.
So in-person conversation takes longer than an email -- especially if there was a digression -- but the outcome was that I was either briefly bonding with a co-worker or our work-related discussion led to even stronger idea generation. The trade-off was worth it.
It was also the most I've ever enjoyed work!
I could read email and chats but respond only by walking to someone's desk or calling the person. If I received a good pitch from someone outside the company, I would call them. In the morning when we work from home, I allowed myself some group responses in our Slack chat app because this is where we collectively discuss stories to cover -- the basis for my team’s entire day, the foundation of our entire livelihood and existence. Can’t really mess with that.
WHY THIS CHALLENGE
I dabble in general health but am by no means any kind of wellness luminary, and I don't believe a lot of what practitioners espouse. But I do prefer talking one-on-one as opposed to group settings, which is what Slack has basically become. Plus I've always thought it was ironic that open offices are meant to spur discussion, but employees usually end up talking online so as not to disturb others. It was a ripe time to explore this since the merits of open-office plans are a hot topic.
I predicted I would have to cheat. I also felt that my team would lose out on stories and traffic. I also envisioned being obnoxious to everyone. Basically, I have a nihilist view on this experiment already.
I Quit My Experiment After Two Hours
The morning started with a meeting for all HuffPost employees. During these gathering, the staff might chat intermittent commentary to one another about topics like the snacks, such as “These are definitely the best bagels we’ve ever had at a meeting.” I couldn’t partake and started feeling FOMO, but then I realized my coworker sitting next to me didn’t have his computer. So it really didn’t matter since the most likely chat candidate is your most physically adjacent person -- a general rule always.
Later, I got an email requiring me to respond to the whole group. I realized one of the biggest issues was going to be the formidable reply all. Was I going to walk around and effectively “reply all” to everyone? No. So I quit my experiment after a couple hours.
I Started Anew. I Also Walked A 5K In The Office Looking For People
Not being a quitter, I decided to pick the experiment back up four days later. I needed to track someone down to edit her story, and I was immediately met the challenge of physically finding her since our employees tend to move around to various alcoves of the office. Once we sat down together, the editing process was much easier to do in-person, since typically it takes anywhere from five to 105 chats to discuss edits for any given story. I found that giving feedback about what to change is much easier and better received face-to-face.
“By now I'm realizing I can concentrate without interruptions and hash out issues much quicker. I also truly listened to people. Email allows me to be a lazy listener because I know someone will likely follow up with a detailed note.”
By now, I'm realizing I can concentrate without interruptions and hash out issues much quicker. I also truly listened to people. Email allows me to be a lazy listener because I know someone will likely follow up with a detailed note.
Today, I also called our Politics section in Washington, D.C., to work out coverage on a Flint, Michigan, story. I spoke to a fellow editor I have never talked to but whose work I admire. A new friendship was forged.
Later, I went over to a reporter to ask a Lexis Nexis question. We then talked about our mutual love for Mexico City and about how Dean Strang from “Making a Murderer” is like Atticus Finch. This was a day of serious coworker bonding!
I Tried To Hold A Conference Call, And Only One Person Called In
Today, some of my colleagues were discussing an issue that could have been easily resolved in chat. Instead I asked for a conference call. In the end, only one dedicated person called in. We immediately hung up.
I also had a meeting about a video we are trying to produce. I hadn’t been able to weigh in on previous threads, so I was actually thankful to have a meeting and the opportunity for me to “reply all” in person.
Later, I called one of our reporters in L.A. whom I have known for years but have never spoken to. We discussed an exclusive interview she had with Matt Damon, had a couple laughs, shared some good ideas -- and I think the end piece turned out better because of it.
“I'm realizing today that sometimes I can't respond fast enough to story pitches, so it's costing my team stories, traffic and some of my sanity.”
On a more tragic note, I'm realizing today that sometimes I can't respond fast enough to story pitches, so it's costing my team stories, traffic and some of my sanity.
I Handwrote A Pitch To Our Multimedia Team
Research says that when you handwrite something, it unlocks the creative area of your brain. So today I penned a pitch to our Multimedia team. I had already brainstormed some ideas with my team, but the act of writing did spur some new thoughts. And then when I delivered my note, one of the editors built upon and improved my idea. I also realized Multimedia now has this physical reminder of my idea on their desks, so hopefully it will take priority -- unless they've thrown it away.
My team also left me handwritten notes about their edits, their whereabouts or ideas if I wasn’t at my desk. These actually made me feel really good about people in general, restored my faith in humanity and convinced me we can end poverty and probably destroy ISIS.
I Had No Choice But To Send Many Emails
Today, I had to email our hiring team and other senior editors a couple notes. In a situation like this, there was no way to bop around to all of their desks.
Later, a chat popped up from a member of my team who recently took maternity leave. We have been working together for four years, and she's one of my favorite people on the planet. I called her, and she was able to tell me her birthing story, which obviously would have been NSFChat. It was really great to hear her voice.
I also had a meeting with our new contact on the sales team, with whom I had exchanged many emails but never met. She presented me with an ambitious plan, and I winced, but the tough blow was definitely ameliorated by our newly formed bond.
THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND IT ALL
“Modern employees might actually be doing more work because chat and email allow us to work faster, which is leading to more burnout.”
During the experiment, I left work feeling more zen than normal. I spoke with Annie Perrin, a psychotherapist and VP of Content at the Energy Project -- an organization that trains offices on workplace wellness -- about this phenomenon. Perrin said modern employees might actually be doing more work because chat and email allow us to work faster, which is leading to more burnout.
She also said my good feelings stemmed from the fact that I was "renewing" myself throughout the day by talking to people. When we engage in email or linear activities, our brain functions in an analytical mode and we’re not accessing the parts of our brain where we get our creative ideas and insights, she explained.
Perrin said this is why we get our good ideas in the shower, while exercising or before bed -- when our mind is clear. “The obvious place we’re not being creative is at work sitting in front of a computer."
So since most of us can’t get away from the computer, she said one solution is to grant ourselves this type of intermittent renewal, which boils down to four basic categories:
-Physical renewal: Getting up and stretching.
-Mental renewal: Giving your brain a break.
-Emotional renewal: Doing something that makes you happy.
-Spiritual renewal: Focusing on the purpose of your work and why it matters.
So working independently at my desk and then getting up and talking to people, I was actually achieving all of these renewal forms. Such multi-tasking!
Another reason this experiment was good for my mental health is attributed to what Perrin called emotional efficiency, meaning I probably felt more understood -- and I understood others better as well. She also said that people feel more valued when they are physically heard and seen. “Really, the loss of human connection is the worst thing."
I truly enjoyed this experiment on both a work and personal level.
Overall I think I accomplished a lot – maybe more than usual? I managed two sections, trained employees, hired someone, edited a bunch of stories, wrote some, started collaborating on a video, cemented some content partnerships, worked out a sales sponsorship and completed many other tasks that sound impressive in list form.
Generally speaking, I think it took me longer to do a given task, but in the end the final product was stronger because of in-person interactions.
“So often we respond with whatever fits into a chat box — “omg,” “best thing ever” or a befitting emoji.. It was nice to be forced to really use my words. I plan to use them more.”
There is no way any sane person of the 21st century can adhere to this experiment. But I plan to make it work when I can. Since work is largely about relationships, it only makes sense to do more face-to face interaction.
A big thing I realized is that this experience forced me to be more articulate and descriptive with people. So often we respond with whatever fits into a chat box — “omg,” “best thing ever” or a befitting emoji. While I think the Internet language we have coded is truly a thing of beauty, it was nice to be forced to really use my words. I plan to use them more.
This story is part of a 10-piece series for which HuffPost staffers agreed to experiment with improving their health and decreasing their stress on the job. It’s also part of our monthlong “Work Well” initiative focusing on thriving in the workplace.
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