I have been sitting on this topic for some time now. 2011 has been filled with a real love hate of email as a communications/business tool. In reality the world revolves around email and when I talk about the removal of email people tend to freak out and say it is impossible. I do agree, but only on one point. That the complete removal of email would be impossible as it is the cornerstone of authentication for the Internet. That being said the rest of email could be replaced with more modern tools. Specifically tool that are more social in their orientation. In order to debate this point as a blog I will first start with what we all agree email is. I will then give my opinion on what it is being used for now and close with alternative thinking. Hope u like the post!!
Email as we know it….
Electronic Mail (e-mail), at its inception, was a means of communication in a digital format. Simply put, it was codifying analog messages and transmitting them digitally. Email was then expanded and the addition of attachments & styling was added later. Email is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, but it is know that email predates the internet. One could even say that email was the catalyst of the Internet. When email was introduced into business it quickly became the means of communicating to the company. You cold not hide behind your email. As organisations transitioned from face 2 face to computer 2 computer, management still demanded a respectable response. So the enterprise was forever changed. This demand created industries (RIM, Hotmail, Smartphones etc) and email became part of the business ecosystem. Acronyms such as To, CC, BCC, Subject, Body, Reply-To, Reply-to-all, SMTP, POP3, IMAP, Exchange as well as other nerd terms enter the common vocabulary and many people with little knowledge become dangerous. Initially the power of email was selling point. One could draft one message and send it to any number of recipients. This was a cost conversation as the removal of printing, shipping and receiving etc was removed from the equation. Businesses boomed! As did the dot com boom and tech, as it still does, moved at a rapid pace dragging along everyone in its wake.
Email as it stands today….
But, we are talking about email specifically. Over the years we have seen organic changes in email. One could not measure their email use and as a result it become an interpersonal skill. You had to develop a process to use email and training disappeared as many people just said they “knew” email. As the speed of web outpaced the adoption email use fell to the dogs. The TO field is now where you put everyones email address. It has turned into a fishing with dynamite field. The Subject line is most often left blank as people are now putting the least amount of effort into composition. In the end it is simply forgotten. The composition of the body/message is generic and does not direct any commentary to anyone person from the TO field. So this email to 10+ people with no subject and poorly typed body is sent. I call this the email to no one.
What happens next? Well as the sender you hope that it is read so you tick the send a read receipt right? That covers it right? Done. Now if you are the receiver of such messages you may or may not read it. This would depend on who its from right? Or what the subject line says? Or if you are to “busy” for email. Now if you do open it you look to see who it was sent to. This is a brilliant behavior as you can quickly decide if someone else will respond and be responsible for the answer. If you do read it you then decide if it even applies to you. Alternatively you will wait for someone to Reply-to-all. YES! Someone did and they even added someone else to the email chain! Great! I get to hide out even longer in my avoidance or appropriate workplace communication. Add the advent of SPAM and BOOM we have a tool that is now completely useless. In the end the percentage of emails read are close around 35% the responses are roughly the same at 36% taking action. One may argue that that is a good number. I sent an email to 10 people. 3-4 of the recipients will read it. and 1-2 will respond right??
Through the expansion of email we now have a very complex environment where, if you know what you are doing, can be incredibly efficient. But alas many do not know nor care to understand the value of efficiency in the toolset. As an example look to meeting organisers. The ones who simply use the first screen, do not check for your availability, incorrectly book resources and just sent it to anyone who knows at least 1% of the information. Now if I am on the list I quick become the manager of the meeting as they have double booked me and I have to propose a new time. I then become the meeting organiser as I have to find a time that works for 10 people. Can you see the problem here? Efficiency turned inefficient. You might as well not even have the tool as the person does not understand the tool, does the least amount of effort, puts together a useless meeting and effectively wastes 10 peoples time. This is never accounted for and adds up quickly.
So I now ask you, as the reader, what is email now used for? Avoidance seems to be the first point of call. Communication is done at a subpar level and we now have a situation where no one wants to be held accountable for information. We are expected to use email to communicate and collaborate yet no one is doing it. Don’t even want to get started about the timeline of a global email like this!
I will close this part of the post with a THANKS to those of you who get it. Who know peoples time is important and that you have the tools, when understood, that can aid in speeding up your business.
What can you do with this email mess…
So this is why I am saying you need to stop using email. You need to stop using email because you could be making a contribution to organisational bad performance. There is potential you are adding to the worlds largest miscommunication in the history of miscommunications. If you have to use email, which I am sure you do, I implore you to use it correctly. We have all been gifted with a frontal lobe so use it. Gain the efficiencies through the use of tools like Office or Gmail. Learn more about how to use the tool. You’ll be surprised how easy it actually is. Google is your friend and can show you all you need to know.
One of the best ways to get around the inherent behaviour issues with email is to be more open. The use of social business tools and a number of other open communication platforms hold you more accountable for your behaviour. If you and everyone else can see then you will act more responsibly. If your organisation does not utilise social business tools then follow some simple rules when using email.
Joes email tips:
- Only use the TO field for people whom you want a response from.
- Only CC people if you want them to be informed on the information.
- Set up a rule to put all email where you are CCed into a sub folder for review at the end of the day.
- BCC is dead. Don’t use it.
- Use a headline in the SUBJECT field. I will even use something that is loosely related in order to get a read.
- The structure of the BODY is key. Open with what you are trying to understand. If you know who in the TO field you want an answer from create a new line, say their name and en ask them a question. Finally close of the message with any timelines/milestones you need to fill. Examples below.
- Follow a newspaper mantra. Engage the readers.
- SOMEONE – I need you to answer this question please?
- I need to get this sorted by this time on this date.
- Finally. If it is an email to one person who is in your building. Get off your butt and go ask them face to face! You will always get an answer that way