Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The wee small hours of the morning and 21st-century email etiquette

Ask a Manager, one of favorite sites for avoiding work, has a lot of useful advice about, you know, work.  Recently, Alison Green tackled the issue of whether it's rude to send emails late at night. A student worker asked this, and her advice was that while that's fine if you're sending emails to your peers, if you're a manager of some sort emailing your subordinates, it sets up an expectation that the emails will be answered immediately even if you say otherwise.

The academics that chimed in had a few takes on it:

1. We know that students stay up late and hey, sometimes we do, too, so no big deal if you answer an email late or on a weekend. Maybe we're traveling in a different time zone, too, so no worries about email at odd hours.

2. Also usually not a worry: waking people up as their phone buzzes with an incoming email. They can join the 21st century and turn off notifications like the rest of us or--here's a novel thought--not keep the phone by their bedside.

3. Schedule the email to go out later--at 8 a.m. instead of 2 a.m., for example--which you can do in Outlook and Gmail.

4. Draw a bright line between work and not-work; don't respond to email in off-hours.

What's your take on this?  I have a few new private email rules and questions since I last wrote about this:

1. What do you do when someone flat-out ignores their email and it's well known that you can only reach them through another form of social media that you may or may not use--and everyone just accepts it as an endearing personality quirk? My usual response is to send stuff through official channels (e.g., email) and let the chips fall where they may, unless they're going to fall on me--and then I knuckle under and use the other social media. A sellout position? Probably.

2. What about student or other emails sent after hours or over the weekend? Most of it still sits in my inbox like snowflakes falling on a windowpane, and definitely anything related to department politics can wait, because you know what kind of storm that's going to be. But when students are wrestling with The Great Demon CMS and trying to submit papers, I try to reply if it 's a weeknight (and papers aren't due on the weekend).

3. What if people ignore your carefully written email that took, yes, an hour to write in answer to their questions and then ask the questions again? Do you explain again, or do you say "you may have missed my response to this," copy and paste the first one, and send it--boom, done, with no further thought?

Any other email quandaries?

Friday, November 01, 2019

Recognizing the same old, same old--curmudgeonly or wise?

How does change happen in academe? The Chronicle has one take on it, although if I hear one more empty phrase about "breaking down barriers" and "silos"--hey, all you MBA types who want to disrupt the university, they're called "disciplines" and represent a body of knowledge--I'm going to build a cliché generator and pitch the resulting article to the Chronicle myself.

If you've been in academe for a while, you recognize the pattern of change. (And this happens everywhere.)

1. New higher-up administrator(s) pledges increased transparency, faculty involvement, and an exciting goal. Sometimes it's assessment, but it's always something that takes time and thought from faculty.

2. Faculty are asked for their ideas. Sometimes they're asked to rank things, go to seminars or webinars, meet in committees. They're asked to dream big: what would X program look like in an ideal world? What would make your program achieve better excellence (if you get my drift)? What could you do without if we make your dreams come true, not that you'll have to do without it?

3. Faculty dutifully fill out forms filled with hope & dreams: more faculty! Fewer administrative regulations! More money for research, or for students!

4. They take time out from their research to write the reports, go to the meetings, and so on.

5. Outcomes: 

a. Possibility 1: "So will we be getting money to do this?" "No." "More resources of any kind?" "No." (This is what Roxie's Blog used to call "excellence without money.") And those things that you might do without in a perfect world? We're not funding your dream, but we're cutting those.

b. Possibility 2: Report is deep-sixed and the administration does what it was intending to do anyway.

c. Possibility 3: A different change is implemented despite the advice of faculty and may or may not be a success.

d. Possibility 4: Real and positive change occurs.

6. Administrator(s) move on to the next school, now with a fresh initiative under their belt as proof of their innovation and effectiveness.

For our own sanity, I guess we have to believe that the process moves change forward in positive ways, and sometimes you see incremental and real changes. And I do think those higher-ups putting us through our paces in the process are sincere in wanting to make things better.

But when you see a proposal come around and think "didn't we do this 10 years ago?" should you put your heart and soul into it?

Or should you follow the Academic Serenity Prayer? "Grant me the serenity to hear about another time-sucking initiative on which they claim to want our input, the strength to read between the lines, and the wisdom to know that it's already a done deal and I don't have to pay any attention to it."