Our de-facto mode of communication in business is email. In 2014 over 108 BILLION business emails were sent and received daily, forecast to grow at 7% year on year through 2018 (Figures courtesy of Radacati). Email dominates our communication professionally, however in our home lives; email has been relegated; with instant messaging, video calls and text messaging taking precedence. Occasionally, some people even make phone calls on their mobile devices!
Something is not right with our relationship with email in business . We’ve become too reliant on it and are drowning under the volume of messages that we receive, and that benefits no-one. For many people, their work seems to be servicing email rather than creating, producing and engaging. These far higher value outcomes of our human intelligence are being stifled by a need to service the email beast.
In order to qualify our dysfunctional relationship, let’s look at a few examples and challenges of a world based on modern email:
- We send and receive too many messages, and spend too much time servicing email. I recall working on a challenging customer engagement; receiving over 300 email per day, and sending a similar amount to “keep up”. We are subject to an incomprehensible amount of information to absorb and act on via email.
- One of our first activities daily is to “triage” out the unnecessary emails we have received. Cascades, bulletins, marketing mails, spam. So clearly we are over-using the tool when we should perhaps be exploiting different mediums
- Email volume is often seen as a badge of honour, a sign of how important or busy we are. How many people have you heard proudly announce how many emails they have returned to after a period of annual leave? (As an aside, Traditional mobility solutions did nothing to dispel this myth, with mobile devices originally only being given to the most “important” people, further fuelling our dependence on email).
- We use email as our natural mode of communication. Even when people are sat within the same office space emails get sent. (Yes I’ve done it and I’m sure you have too!)
All of these issues are prevalent even before we get into the subtleties of email usage; individual variation in adoption and usage of email, etiquette, and the opportunity cost of not exploiting other more effective channels for real time communication that we now have at our disposal.
Email is a key business tool, but as we strive towards our vision of the Contemporary Workplace we need to redefine its position and use. The future workplace is more collaborative and engaging by nature. As we redefine workspaces to be open, collaborative and more social, email begins to look like a blunt tool. Face to face communication (whether real or virtual), instant messaging and social networking give us opportunity to expand our network, collaborate more, find answers quicker and engage with each other on a more direct and personal nature, leaving space for email to be redefined for more formal or less critical communication flows that don’t require real time response.
Several organisations have quite famously either banned email or sought to remove the dependence by creating “no email days”, but this doesn’t solve the problems unless we evolve our workspaces and behaviour to capabilities now at our disposal. As we often talk about, our Generation Y and Z colleagues entering the market have never had such reliance on this tool and want to engage differently using the same kind of tools that we’ve so quickly exploited in the consumer side of our lives.
Given email is the lifeblood of many businesses this isn’t a change that’s going to occur overnight, but we should start to strive towards change. And on that note; my inbox is filling up so I had better get back to work!