Email is totally worshipped by executives. A recent study conducted by Adobe showed that 67% of managers are completely dependent on it and name it as their favorite communication and collaboration tool.
Email is totally worshipped by executives. A recent study conducted by Adobe showed that 67% of managers are completely dependent on it and name it as their favorite communication and collaboration tool. Because the inbox is the large, easy-to-use hub that can be used for almost everything - exchanging information, making appointments, tracking folders, exchanging files and even internal promotion tools - the more reactive you are with email, the more you feel that you're invested in the company.
This is, of course, an illusion. The latest figures on email use shows that this is a trend that is not about to go away.
Being dominated by email is a reality shared by many executives. John McLeod is, despite his best efforts, the perfect example of it. Every year, John celebrates the end of winter as far away from Scotland as possible. He is the commercial director of Carp-Entry LLC - a large industrial carpentry SME in the Edinburgh region. He is a great hiking enthusiast, takes advantage of the Spring holidays to go and recharge his batteries on trails in far flung places, ideally ones without any chance of a connection.
“Unplugging” is a trend that is viewed to be necessary as our public and private lives continue to digitize. But now, John is afraid of going back to work. Not because of his job (which he loves), but because of the mountain of information that will have grown in his absence, just waiting for his return. His work email is at the top of his worries.
Day 1. A difficult day back in the office
What John feared happening, happened. Treating yourself to a break at a life-saving distance from work comes at a price: When you get back, your mailbox is overflowing with the 562 emails that accumulated during your absence. John knows that to get himself to the point where he has a usable inbox uncluttered by messages waiting to be read or answered, will take him a long time.
He has two options. The first would be to scan over the 562 messages and sort them quickly on the basis of their subject line. The goal is to waste little time so that he can return to his routine as soon as possible. Unfortunately, without any obvious prioritization of the emails, there is a significant risk that an important message will slip through the net simply because it is poorly worded.
He cannot afford to take risks with the three big distributors and the two prospects who are waiting to hear from him. He has no choice but to read through all the messages whether they are vital or spam.
Day 2. Infernal attachments
It was bound to happen. Between the waiting emails, the folders that have to be sent out and the routine business, John's mailbox is full. Nothing can get in and he cannot send the new product catalogues to distributors. There’s a problem: One of his distributors just called John to tell him that his email this morning bounced back. What a customer relations nightmare this is!
In an emergency, John can negotiate directly with Alan, the CIO of Carp-Entry LLC, who fortunately is a long-time friend. By now, John has cleaned out a chunk of his inbox and it is working again – and he has also received a firm order from Alan to "clear out your inbox as soon as possible."
It is something that John has to do quickly and, because of the size and complexity, it is going to cost him a lot of time. Once he has deleted the emails he was only copied on, working at an average rate of three minutes per email, dealing with the remaining 200 emails in his inbox will take him at least 10 hours. John was right to be worried about coming back to work.
Day 5. A return to normal. Almost
Little by little, John's email address gets up to cruising speed. However, the organizational problems caused by it have not changed. To John, this will happen again the next time he is off. He just sees it as part of the communication process.
The problems caused are wide-ranging - John has to ask the sender for an attachment that must have been in their initial email which, of course, has gone missing; he would have struggled to find the location of an appointment made with a customer by email; he will have spent ages trying to find the last version of the document validated by another customer; he will have wasted time to follow (and sometimes just to understand) a discussion that had taken place among his teams.
In brief, if his inbox seems like the ideal place for all communications, he is clearly wasting his time. No, the inbox is not the answer to everything.
From hell to heaven
So, must we get rid of email? Some have tried the "zero email" experience with varying degrees of success. However, throwing the baby out with the bath water is never the best option. Email, yes, but with an element of moderation. Here are some tips to optimize its use:
• First, prioritize! List, classify, filter. Not all messages have equal value. As much as possible, only use your inbox for exchanges that need to be kept, those that make sense, those that have some value in relation to a current piece of work.
• Purge your box regularly (every six months for example).
• Chats? Discussions? Use specific channels for these. Instant messaging systems have been designed for this purpose. They are simple, practical and collaborative. They are also a possible way of avoiding attachments.
• Avoid the curse of attachments. That's not what the mail was made for. Instead, use cloud storage to share files. The effects are immediate: Lighter and faster messaging, and document revision histories all within the sharing platform (which has the added advantage of avoiding versioning errors).
• In general, use the right tool for the right job. An appointment, for example, can be made on an online diary with an email then being sent directly by the platform to all the participants.
There are many ways to improve the use of email, some of them are explained here.
In any case, optimizing the way you use email can only help you in your job, help your company's finances... and give you peace of mind.
I have a theory that communication and collaboration tools can reduce unconscious bias and increase inclusion in the workplace. Twenty-plus years ago, before the internet was democratized and made available to everyone, we used to meet face-to-face or experience long delays in getting a response to our ideas.
Some of my favourite scenes from the film Iron Man are the ones that showcase the relationship Tony Stark has with Jarvis.
Desk is cleared off. Mug is washed and dried. Email inbox is at zero. You’re going to be away from the office for a conference or holidays for a few days. You’ll need a way to communicate that you are unavailable.
In a perfect world, workplace communications would always be smooth and free of silos and red tape, and would be smoothly integrated into the digital world to reap the benefits of keeping up with today’s digital world.
When email was introduced in companies at the end of the 1980s, big promises were made: Less paper on desks, faster circulation of information and higher productivity.
Implementing remote working in a business requires an effective management system that can cope remotely.