Workplace

After Fighting Sandy, Workers Face the Dreaded Inbox


After Fighting Sandy, Workers Face the Dreaded Inbox

Photograph by Justin Geoffrey

While unable to get to the office, many workers still could check e-mail from their phones, or otherwise, after Hurricane Sandy. What they found were inboxes bursting at the digital seams with emergency messages from employers and colleagues slowly reconnecting and cranking back up to speed. 

Relax, take a breath, and start deleting.

Michael Hyatt, a writer on productivity and social media, offers this advice about managing e-mails on his website: “The key is that once you start processing your inbox, you must move quickly.” Read each e-mail and either act on it, delegate, defer, delete, or file it.

Tariq Khokhar, who works on open data strategies for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., says that despite having remote access to his e-mail during the storm, he had 364 unread e-mails in his inbox Wednesday morning. That compares with an average 150 e-mails on a normal day. He attributes this to “two to three days without regular e-mail habits,” though thankfully there was less correspondence per day as his colleagues in D.C. were not at work either.

Khokhar, who remained undaunted, planned to set aside an hour or so to sort out his inbox. “I work on e-mail twice a day, filter pretty brutally, and end up acting on only 20 percent to 30 percent of mail, delegating or archiving the rest,” he writes in an e-mail. “Easier to reach me for something urgent on Twitter or the phone.”

Rishona Myers, owner of RM Creative Events Management in Meadowbrook, Pa., says her phone, Internet, and power are out as a result of the storm, and on Tuesday she also experienced cell phone service disruptions, which completely cut her off from work. The next morning, she had 100 e-mails waiting for her. “E-mail is partially available now, but I hope to be fully operational and responsive by this weekend,” she says in an e-mail, adding that she’s “annoyed and anxious about not being able to contact customers and clients.”

Others got away with relatively little hassle. Sarah Newsome, an employee at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., says she tried to check e-mail remotely after the storm, but the agency’s website wasn’t working. On Wednesday morning she tweeted, “I’m scared of my work inbox,” though to her relief, she only found 50 messages waiting for her. That “normally wouldn’t be so bad, but I work for the USG [U.S. government]. I really shouldn’t have had any since we were closed!” Newsome tells me. The messages were all routine communication, she says, “important, but not urgent by any means.”

Luckily, most e-mails aren’t.

Venessa-wong-190x190
Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.
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