How much time do you think you spend communicating on Slack and email every day? A recent survey by Adobe found that most workers say it’s upwards of 3.1 hours per day. While our own research found that most knowledge workers “check in” on communication tools every 6 minutes.
But time isn’t the only cost of your communication tools. As the old saying goes, “time is money.” Sometimes it’s easier to understand the impact of communication overuse when you put it in terms of dollars and cents.
While we strongly believe that communication tools are a requirement for doing your best work. We also believe that most people aren’t using email and Slack effectively. And as studies have consistently found, more time spent on communication leads to a loss in productivity and an increased chance of overworking and burnout. Yet still, few companies address the issue of communication overload with any real urgency.
So, how much does the time spent on Slack and email actually cost employers? We found out.
Communication tools “cost” companies an average of $28,209 per employee, per year
A Slack account might cost $12.50/month per user, but that’s not it’s only cost. To figure out the dollar cost of your time on communication, we looked to two sources.
First, we used the job review site Glassdoor’s publicly available data to understand average annual salaries by job title across America. (We linked to each Glassdoor report below.)
Next, we dug into our own data, analyzing the anonymized daily histories of 50,000+ RescueTime users to see the percentage of their work days they spent on communication tools (8am–6pm).
Here’s what that looks like:
Assuming most people are working a typical 8-hour workday, the math is simple:
Salary * Percent of time spent on communication = “cost” of communication
Here’s what we discovered:
- Average salary: $115,462
- Percentage of working hours spent on communication: 21%
- “Cost” of communication: $24,247.02 per year
- Average salary: $90,337
- Percent of working hours spent on communication: 36%
- “Cost” of communication: $32,521.32 per year
- Average salary: $121,437
- Percent of working hours spent on communication: 37%
- “Cost” of communication: $44,931.69 per year
- Average salary: $69,609
- Percent of working hours spent on communication: 16%
- “Cost” of communication: $11,137.44 per year
On average, time spent on email and IM tools like Slack cost companies $28,209 per employee, per year.
Are these numbers bad? Depends who you ask.
First off, let’s acknowledge that we’re dealing with averages here. And even more than that, the methodology is far from scientific.
There will always be factors that influence both salary (like location, company, seniority, and sector) and time spent on communication (like company size, policies, tools used, individual usage, etc…)
Yet even if these numbers are 5-10% off, they still paint a vivid picture of the true cost of communication tools.
Rather than make us more productive and freeing up time for more meaningful work, email and IM take over our days. Some days, it even feels like all we do is answer emails and talk on Slack. And while that time isn’t all bad, it’s definitely not the work you were hired to do.
Not only do we spend the majority of our day with our inboxes and Slacks open in the background (meaning we’re constantly multitasking). But we also can’t take a break from our messages with knowledge workers checking their email or Slack on average every 6 minutes.
So that’s bad. But what’s good?
Well, for one, we’re using communication tools only slightly more than we think we are.
According to a recent Adobe survey, people believe that, on average, they spend 3.1 hours on email every workday. Or, around 37.5% of an 8-hour day. While our data found that knowledge workers on average spend 40.1% of their day multitasking with email.
Lastly, communication tools are inherently meant for collaboration and knowledge sharing. While close to $30,000 a year might seem like a crazy cost for your time on email and Slack, the alternative—not communicating at all—would almost certainly be worse.
The secret to effective communication is to optimize for it, not just let it run free
Like most things in life, effective communication comes down to finding a balance. Communication tools are powerful productivity boosters when used in the right way. Yet most of us set them up with a set-it-and-forget-it mentality and then just accept their constant distraction as just how things work.
But imagine if you uncovered some other process or workplace issue costing you close to $30,000 a year per employee! I’m sure you’d do everything in your power to rectify it.
To help you get started, here are some of our best resources on handling communication overload and becoming a more effective communicator.
Set up your email and Slack for effective communication (and focus)
It all starts with how you interact with these tools during the day. (Of course, you’re going to spend all day switching back and forth between communication tools if you have push notifications and mobile apps enabled.)
Instead of turning these tools off, you can use their own settings and features to help stay focused. For help, check out our guides on How to Set Up Slack for Focus and 21 Gmail Settings to Master your Inbox.
One great time-saving feature in email especially is to use templates or “canned responses”. This way, instead of writing out long responses to common questions, you have quickly customizable templates you can work off of. We’ve even put together a set of 10 canned responses that will save you hours each week.
Change the expectations around response time and start working in “bursts”
One of the biggest issues when it comes to ineffective communication isn’t the overload of messages. But the expectation that you’ll respond to each of them right away.
We all want to be good employees and teammates and don’t want to leave someone hanging when they have a question. That’s why one study found that 70% of emails are opened within 6 seconds of receiving them!
But constantly being in reactive mode takes its toll. It’s harder to stay focused, be productive, and get into a state of flow when you’re being interrupted constantly by emails and messages. And even worse, your “good teammate” habits of responding quickly can set off a chain reaction of communication, overloading the entire team.
So what’s the answer?
Getting rid of real-time notifications is a start, but even more important is the mental shift away from “always on” and towards “when the time is right”.
As Adam Grant writes in Harvard Business Review:
“Resetting norms regarding when and how to initiate e-mail requests or meeting invitations can free up a great deal of wasted time.”
So what should the norm be?
Recent studies have shown that the ideal communication pattern is to work in “bursts”—especially when it comes to complex problem-solving. Bursts not only give us more time to focus, but they create an important balance between periods of brainstorming and periods of deep thought. (Read our full guide to working in bursts here.)
Understand just how much communication is impacting your day (and give yourself a break!)
You can’t change behaviors if you don’t know what they are. And it’s often hard to estimate just how much time you’re spending during the day on communication (and when). But you need to know this in order to create an effective communication schedule.
One way to do this is through a manual time audit. Keep a piece of paper and pen by you and mark down when you checked or answered an email or message throughout the day. An easier way is to use a tool like RescueTime that automatically tracks your behavior and provides you with in-depth reports.
For example, here’s what my communication time report looks like for the month of September. I can see my total time broken down by which tool was used as well as by day and time of day. I can also filter it by my customized Work Hours to see how much communication is happening outside the workday.
You can also get organizational insights if your team is using RescueTime. For example, looking at the RescueTime team report from September shows me that we spent 18% of our time on communication.
This information can also be broken down by day and time of day to understand when communication tools are taking over.
If you feel like these tools are taking over, sometimes a quick break is the best bet. Close Slack or email for a deep work session and toggle on Do-Not-Disturb mode on all your devices. Your notifications will still be waiting for you when you come back.
The full cost of communication is more than time and money
No one does their best work when they spend their day answering emails and messages. Yet that is the reality for many people. More than just wasting time and money, communication overload kills motivation, focus, and happiness in the workplace.
Instead of letting your email and Slack control your day, take control of them. You’ll not only be more productive and focused, but less stressed too. Effective communication is a win-win for everyone.