Richard Branson has built several billion-dollar businesses, launched spaceships, and set a world record as the first person to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon. But surely his latest project—banning his staff from the horrors of email—is his most brilliant move yet.
Roughly 200 employees at Virgin Management, the management company owned by Branson, have been blocked from accessing email for two hours every Wednesday morning since June. Instead, they do walking meetings, brainstorm in person, and even form running clubs. The initiative comes from the CEO of Virgin Group, Josh Bayliss, who realized that working collaboratively but never meeting face-to-face wasn’t the best for teamwork and morale, reports Mashable.
It’s a step in the right direction, for a few reasons.
It’s extremely difficult to get a sense of someone’s personality when your only communication comes through words on a screen. You might think you have a good sense of your colleague who lives on the other side of the world but chances are, you’re projecting. Indeed studies have found that personality traits are muted online. We’re constrained to a few polite words in an inbox and, ultimately, everyone winds up sounding just about the same.
Email communication also tends to be extremely functional. You email to ask thoughts on a specific project, to check the time for a meeting, to find out a piece of information as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is all well and good but it means you don’t get to ramble or chat with colleagues, which often sees conversations go in unexpected and surprisingly brilliant directions. Those watercooler moments aren’t simply a break from work—they’re a major source of surprising new ideas.
When was the last time you received a truly exciting email? I’m sure you can think of one or two, but that’s precisely the problem. The occasional, unpredictable hit is known in psychology as “random reinforcement.” Because we get a good email on rare occasions, we spend countless wasted hours checking and re-checking for possible updates. And we all know how demoralizing it can be to spend hour after hour staring at the same screen.
So much better then, to be finally forced to look away. Even if you don’t have a boss that enforces the ban, your work will thank you.