Five Questions You Should Ask About the Way We Work

Radhika Sivadi

3 min read ·


We are constantly changing the way we work, but we’re often too close to see the change as it happens.  Email is one example.  Who can remember the ‘You’ve Got Mail’ announcement recorded in 1989?  That’s around the time that email began a serious assault on how we work. Today, we may see email as either helping us work or crippling how we work. Either way, it’s part of an ongoing discussion on how to manage our time and workload.

Is email prioritizing your day?

People tend to fall into two ‘types’ when it comes to email strategy:

  • Type A: Look at email first thing in the morning and deal with it before moving on to what they have prioritized as the ‘important’ work for the day.
  • Type B: Get to the important work immediately, then deal with email later.

Personally, I am a ‘type A’ email person-I deal with email first. Many of the emails I get are essential requests from coworkers and bosses, and I think of email (not the advertisements) as a near real-time communication.

There is an argument for ignoring email.

I do understand “type B” email people, and sometimes wish I could be one. Their argument is this: you should be the one prioritizing your work, not emails sent by others. Otherwise, you might use email to waste time and avoid doing the ‘real’ work of the day. Ouch! (It is easy to waste time on email.)

My bottom line is that my bosses trust me to make the right decisions about what work I should be doing at any moment. Which email type are you?

Who sets the priorities for customer service work?

The email discussion is relevant when we think about the back office employees involved in customer service. How do they decide what to do and when to work on our behalf? In other words, what happens when you’re the ‘customer’ of the one managing the workload? Do you feel differently about how work is prioritized for this situation?

Today, workflow systems do a fantastic job of creating the steps of a business process. But when it comes to distributing work, they often drop off tasks to people like a bunch of email-leaving the employee to pick and choose what to do.

Customers depend on timely delivery of work items like mortgages, insurance claims, billing, etc. We all like to think that work distribution is based on customer segmentation, delivery due dates and business priorities. We don’t want our jobs to rely on work avoidance, personal choices, cherry-picking or other processes that don’t consider our needs. Supervisors can manually try to prioritize work, but it’s a losing battle.

There are five questions to ask about your own processes.

In the case of customer service, many tasks are still distributed manually, often like an email inbox. Work distribution processes are not employee-oriented-they do not account for availability, presence or skills. And they are not customer-centric, considering customer priorities and segmentation.

Here’s a way to determine if your work distribution method is both employee-focused and customer-centric: ask these five questions.

  1. Who is the customer?  Is customer work distribution prioritized according to customer segment and business value?
  2. What is the business priority? Is business logic driving how work is treated and prioritized by employees?
  3. When is your work required to meet goals? Is work prioritization based on customer expectations?
  4. Where is your best-equipped resource? Is work allocated based on employee competencies and availability?
  5. How does your customer prefer to be contacted?  Are you communicating proactively with customers on work progress?

If you can’t answer yes to some or all of these questions, you might want to look into using new technologies to manage and distribute work in the front and back office.  Read up on the growing category of workload management, or get the white paperTaking the Effort Out of the Customer Experience; Best Practices to Optimize Your Service Strategy.

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Radhika Sivadi