Inappropriate use of email?

According to an episode of The Economist’s podcast titled "Wide world of wikis" we are not making use of email in the way it was intended to be used. Email was originally meant to be used for asynchronous communications (in other words communicating with someone who may not be online at the same time or who may not respond immediately) whereas there is presently a trend to also use email as a clunky form of instant messaging or as a way to communicate information which need not be communicated with the relative immediacy of email.

Why is this an issue? Well, according to a recent Gartner report, roughly a third of internal email you receive is what is referred to as "occupational" spam which means that it is email from colleagues and isn’t necessarily unrelated to your work. All that happens is that your colleagues flood your inbox in their efforts to be productive and the end result is the opposite. Employees then find themselves spending, on average, 49 minutes a day managing that email and further that roughly 27% of that email actually requires their immediate attention.

So the problem isn’t that the information being communicated is irrelevant but rather that the information is being communicated in a way (via email) that is not the most effective method of communicating that information. Arguably the right time to use email is when:

  • a prompt response is required from the recipient but not right now;
  • we use email to communicate private information without requiring a response.

In other instances we could communicate that information in a manner that is more effective if we use tools like blogs, wikis and instant messaging. Obviously blogs and wikis are better suited for broader communication of information where a prompt or urgent response is not required (or where no response is required and the information is intended to broader consumption). An analogy is the use of a notice board in the office intended to keep your colleagues updated on a project. The difference here is that a blog or wiki allow for some form of feedback which really helps facilitate better communication about the project concerned. Another benefit of a wiki or a blog is that documents can be published without the need to clutter corporate networks with multiple copies of that document attached to multiple emails.

Instant messaging, on the other hand, is best suited for instantaneous communications with another person (or more than one person) so a good use for an instant messaging client is where you need to do the equivalent of a quick meeting with members of your team about an issue. Rather than walking down the passage to a colleague’s office, you send an IM to the people you want to chat to.

So while the information is still getting out there, the hope is that using different platforms to communicate that information will mean that employees will consume that information in different ways and at different times, easing the pressure to respond to huge amounts of email. In turn this will hopefully result in better productivity.

(Source Freshbooks and Mike Stopforth)

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