In our chapter vignette, Bill does a good job of building an e-community, but he ultimately goes too far. E-communications is a Janus-faced proposition. (Janus, you will recall from Roman mythology, was a god with two faces.) On the upside, email permits the boss and her or his team to exchange ideas at any time of the day or night. On the downside, all this emailing back and forth can erode personal time.
While it is true that for many the boundaries between work and home are blurred, the leader needs to respect the personal lives of her or his followers. A relentless flurry of email from the leader can set up the expectation that employees must do the same. The leader not only has to set limits on his or her own messaging habits, but also must make it clear that followers do not need to emulate them. In other words, just because a leader does email at two in the morning does not mean followers need to do so. Unless the leader is explicit in setting limits, employees will naturally assume that he or she expects people to be monitoring their email in the wee hours. For example, the leader can say, "I do my email in off-hours because it is my choice to do so, but I do not expect you to be waiting around for my messages. Nor do I expect you to work at those hours unless you want to." In this way, the leader sets limits and maintains a differentiation between work time and personal time.
According to a survey by Pew Internet and American Life Project, 98 percent of people who have access to the Internet at work use it. They find email essential to their jobs, enabling them to accomplish their work. Most of them find email effective for conducting fact-based business, but less effective for "heart-to-heart" discussions. Many see email as "encouraging communications." Surprisingly, while anecdotal evidence shows that people feel overwhelmed by the amount of email they get, most users find it "manageable." Some 20 percent of emailers, however, fall into the "power email category," half of whom receive more than 20 emails daily, and a quarter of whom receive upwards of 50 per day. All in all, this study confirms what many employees already know: Email has become an integral part of the workplace.
Deborah Fallows, "Email at Work: Few Feel Overwhelmed and Most Are Pleased with the Way Email Helps Them Do Their Jobs," Pew Internet & American Life Project, Dec. 8, 2002.