Business unplugged

Spencer
Gallagher, managing director of a new media company, surprised his team by
shunning his e-mail, mobile phone and laptop. But, he believes he is a much
better manager for it

Spencer
Gallagher returned from holiday to 2,500 e-mails in his inbox. It convinced him
more than ever that something about his day had to change. With that, he
disconnected his laptop, switched off his mobile phone, and even deleted his
mobile number from his business card.

"The
idea came to me while I was sitting on the beach on holiday, and I started to
analyse my day," explains the MD of Blue Halo New Media.

"I
was getting into work at 7.30am to respond to e-mails rather than going to the
gym, and I was staying at work until 7.30pm responding to e-mails rather than
going home on time.

“I
also started to think what else was stealing my time like the mobile phone and
fax machine. Then I thought, what would happen if all my e-mails went direct to
my team members and any call-to-actions that I needed to see were printed out
and handed to me. So, I unplugged the computer."

More
time to manage

That
was three months ago, and since then, 32-year-old Gallagher has felt no
compulsion to reconnect to the digital world – anyway, he’s too busy being a
real managing director now.

"It’s
enabled me to do all the things I meant to do before but was too scared to
commit to because I didn’t have enough time to pay them proper attention. I’ve
now managed to put a marketing strategy in place, appoint a PR consultant, go
for Investors in People accreditation and be proactive about future development
of the company," he says.

"I’ve
also had more time to spend developing staff and getting out to see customers.
I’m certainly a better manager and I’m certainly fitter as I can get to the
gym. I still send quotes out myself, but I do them in long hand. They take me
10 minutes as opposed to the two hours before with interruptions."

E-mail
overload

The
move is particularly bold when you consider that much of Blue Halo’s business
is based around the internet. The new media company was launched four years ago
by Gallagher and has grown from a customer base of one to 800. The company
offers a range of new media services from web design and publishing to computer
programming.

The
fact Gallagher had grown the company himself was one of the reasons why many
business leads and enquiries would come direct to him. He could usually expect
250 e-mails a day, although he acknowledges that some of it was junk mail.

"Don’t
get me wrong, e-mail is still an extremely important part of our business and
the leads we get from the website are part of our lifeline," he says.

Now
all such e-mails are handled by two members of staff and forwarded to people
who can deal with them direct. Gallagher says he can even forsee a time when
only one person was responsible for all incoming e-mails.

‘You’re
mad’

But
don’t the staff think it odd that their high-tech managing director, who admits
to being a ‘gadget lad’, has gone down this route, and what effect does it have
on the business?

"Initially,
they said ‘you’re mad, you love your gadgets’, but three months on, I’m still
doing it. The team knows I come into work in a better frame of mind and, as for
the business, we’re still growing 35 per cent year-on-year."

There
is evidence to suggest that others could follow Gallagher’s lead and he reports
that his peers are starting to see the wisdom in it.

In
the book E-people, Dr David Cannon, a research fellow in organisational
behaviour in the London Business School, warns of the dangers of e-mail
overload. "I see very bright students who have been turned into response
junkies by e-mail," he says. "They open their inboxes and respond to
whatever is in them instead of thinking what real work they should do
today."

Even
technology vendors have started to accept that the paperless office is perhaps
a myth. Xerox recently introduced the Xerox Advanced Print Automation or XAPA
(pronounced Zapper), which automatically opens all e-mails and prints them in
chronological order. Perfect for those returning from holiday with chocker
inboxes – unless, of course, like Gallagher, you’ve come up with a
life-changing masterplan on the beach.

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