Communication diet


I didn’t hear any of my colleagues comment on how quiet it was last week, even though it was ‘communication diet week’ at our department. During this week, all regular meetings were cancelled, and instead of the usual administrative questions and requests, our support staff only emailed teachers in case of urgent matters.

We’ve planned four such ‘communication diet weeks’ at our department this academic year. During these periods, our scientific staff will have more time for research, without having to spend time on administrative teaching tasks or standard meetings. Regular teaching will however take place as planned. Industrial Design isn’t the first or only department or service that tries to give its scientific staff a bit more breathing space with this pilot. Our colleagues at Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences had their meeting-free week one week before ours. And in last Friday’s Strategy Update, TU/e’s Executive Board also proposes to schedule two meeting-free weeks.

We organized our first communication diet week in September. This week was included in the annual planning. But apart from that, our department had hardly communicated about it. That’s why some people failed to notice that there were fewer emails in their inboxes. Our support staff had some difficulty adjusting at first: what kind of emails can and can’t we send? Just to be sure, we worked extra hard to send overviews on the Friday before the diet week. Or we decided to wait another week before writing and sending a report.

This time around, the communication diet week was announced more broadly. A ‘work-life balance etiquette’ was launched at the same time. It said, among other things, that we can’t expect people to instantly respond to our emails, especially not outside regular working days/hours. It also said that we shouldn’t cc our emails too often and that we need to respect each other’s days off and part-time days.

When you think about it, these are all rather obvious, reasonable agreements, which need to ensure that we don’t start every workday with a new stack of boldface emails waiting to be replied or deleted. But this time too, not everyone noticed a difference.

Perhaps there is a similarity between how a communication diet works and how a weight loss App group works, such as the one my colleagues and I started some six weeks ago. We motivate each other. And social control helps us stick with our diet. But we don’t say no to that piece of pie or cookie at the really important moments, of which there are quite a few! For me, this resulted in a modest weight loss. Imperceptible to the naked eye. But a small success nonetheless. And that calls for a celebration!

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