What’s really better for your office: No email, or only email?

emailEmail is a neat thing. Although many claim it’s on the decline now, it’s inarguably still very popular and a staple in many business of all sizes. Seriously, how many offices today, in the tech industry especially, function daily without email? Very, very few.

And while this may change down the road, that’s many years away. Email is here to stay for at least a little while longer, which is good news for all of us in the office—this means you can send emails to co-workers, communicating with them without leaving your desk, and it reduces that distracting chatter that arises when everyone’s having verbal conversations.

But there is a clash of opinion: are emails actually more productive and less intrusive than communicating in-person?

Jason Fried, CEO of 37signals, told Canadian Business back in August that the typical workplace is “optimized for interruptions,” and the most distracting and intrusive things are phones ringing, people tapping your shoulder, etc. In Jason’s office, people sitting just feet from each other utilize instant messaging programs instead of talking. His office is quiet as a mouse throughout the day. With email and IM, Jason says youcan close those windows and focus on work, then shift back into conversation and collaboration seamlessly. You have the control, whereas you can’t ignore your boss tapping your shoulder.

But others, like Laure Shaw of Edmonton’s Acrodex, largely disagrees. She notes that in almost all cases, it takes longer to craft an email than to discuss the issue in person, and often that in person an issue can be resolved then and there, as opposed to myriad emails traded over an entire day.

And Mark Gelsomini, a manager of IT for Dundee Metals, says email is frustrating because there is no way to tell if somebody received an email, read it, and is going to reply to it in time.

It all depends on several factors within the office: the size of the office, the amount of collaboration required, and the personalities of the employees. It’s worth experimenting on, though, because a workplace “optimized for interruptions” is a workplace minimized for productivity.