Email is far from dead; in fact, the volume of messages exchanged daily, the number of accounts per user, and the number of devices on which email is accessed have been constantly growing. Being able to access email across multiple devices brings numerous benefits such as flexible working practices. However, it can also have negative stressful consequences such as increasing email overload and the blurring of work-home boundaries. Yet, there is still little understanding on work and personal emails using different devices impact work-home boundary management. Therefore, we conducted several studies on email management and retrieval, to understand the implications for boundary management.

We found that personal and work email accounts are managed differently, resulting in diverse retrieval strategies: while work accounts are more structured and thus email is retrieved through folders, personal accounts have fewer folders and users rely primarily on the built-in search option. Moreover, retrieval occurs primarily on laptops and PCs compared to smartphones.

We also conducted an exploratory study that extends the current understanding of email usage by investigating how different professions at a university manage email across work-home boundaries.

Our findings lead us to identify two user groups: those with permeable boundaries (primarily academics) and those who have more rigid ones (primarily professional services employees) and that there are differences in when, where and how they manage their work and personal emails. In particular, we found that some participants use micro-boundary strategies to manage transitions between work and personal life. Micro-boundaries correspond to small moments of friction in the interaction that in this case the user creates to avoid cues to interaction that might not align with one’s values.

Findings have informed a series of design recommendations on to better account for personal and professional differences in managing email boundaries. The short version of these is listed below:

  • Better email integration for work tasks.
  • Learning from other communication tools, such as instant messaging platforms.
  • Designing for short-lived and long-lived content to be stored in emails.
  • Optimising smartphone search.
  • Setting contextual notifications based on locations and account type.
  • Automatically tagging email with device icons based on where they were first opened.
  • Tailoring company email policies to reflect professional group.

Publications:

Cecchinato, M.E., Sellen, A., Shokouhi, M., & Smyth, G. (2016). Finding email in a multi-device, multi-account world. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing systems. San Jose, CA. ACM.

Cecchinato, M.E., Cox, A. L., & Bird, J. (2015). Working 9-5?: Professional differences in email and boundary management practices. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 3989-3998). ACM.

Cecchinato, M.E., Fleck, R., Bird, J., & Cox, A. L. (2015). Online vs. Offline: Implications for Work Identity. In CHI 2015 Workshop Between the lines: Reevaluating the Online/Offline Binary.

Cecchinato, M.E. (2014, September). Email management and work-home boundaries. In Proceedings of the 16th international conference on Human-computer interaction with mobile devices & services (pp. 403-404). ACM.

Cecchinato, M.E., Cox, A.L., & Bird, J. (2014, September). “I check my emails on the toilet”: Email Practices and Work-Home Boundary Management. Socio-Technical Systems and Work-Home Boundaries Workshop, ACM MobileHCI, Toronto, Canada.

Cecchinato, M.E., Bird, J., & Cox, A.L. (2014, April) Personalised Email Tools: A Solution to Email Overload? Personalised Behaviour Change Technologies Workshop, ACM CHI, Toronto, Canada.

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