Counting down the weeks until the new season of The Office starts. Tonight’s rerun episode — “Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager” — was first covered by my Office (and office) mate Jaclyn West; check it out, it’s a great read (http://blogs.hrhero.com/thatswhatshesaid/2011/05/14/straight-shooter/).
Poking around The Office website on nbc.com, I came across a web exclusive: a collection of e-mails between Michael and his former Dunder Mifflin co-workers. You can read them at http://www.nbc.com/the-office/exclusives/michael-scott/yahoo/. Check out the folders labeled “Friends” (particularly the one from Holly) and “Co-workers.” The latter includes several messages from Michael as he flew across the country to reunite with Holly in Colorado (thank goodness for in-flight WiFi, and thank goodness that Ryan let Michael know that the WiFi was available throughout the plane, not just in the bathroom), as well as some post-departure e-mails from the denizens of The Office. I especially liked the one from “The Fist,” and Dwight’s anxious reply.
Reading these got me thinking about how e-mail has changed workplace communication, for both better and worse. The better is obvious, as e-mail now allows us to share critical information at a speed once unimaginable. But the speed and ease of e-mail communication is also its dark side. People will say things in e-mails that they would never dream of putting in a formal memo or saying out loud, and once it is out there, it can’t be retracted, and can live on virtually forever. Electronic documents, including e-mails, can come back to haunt a corporation in litigation, as what were intended as off-the-cuff comments or jokes don’t seem so funny months or years later. What can you do to minimize this risk? On a personal level, it’s always a good idea to take a moment before you hit “send” and think about what you’re saying, and how it might be perceived by the recipient(s). If you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing what you’ve said splashed in a newspaper headline, you may want to give some thought to changing the tone, or not sending it at all. From a corporate perspective, make sure that you have a policy regarding e-mail usage, one that addresses the appropriate uses of the company e-mail system and reiterates that the company expectations regarding civility in the workplace apply equally to electronic communication. Also consider whether it makes sense to implement a protocol by which e-mails are automatically deleted periodically (though make sure you turn off that system if litigation is threatened, lest you be accused of failing to protect the destruction of potentially relevant documents).
Take a look at the e-mails from Michael’s former colleagues (which presumably were sent from their corporate e-mail accounts) and let me know if you think any are particularly problematic for Dunder Mifflin. And while you’re on the site, you may as well drop your own e-mail to Michael, telling him how much you miss him. How will we get along without him? We’ll find out in four weeks!