I remember when this fancy new, mind blowing work tool called “e-mail” was loaded on my desktop computer at work one day.
We initially thought it would never replace the existing modern wonder, the facsimile.
(I can see my daughter rolling her eyes, unable to comprehend a time before email, unless it was when dinosaurs inhabited the planet. “And what’s a Fascimile?”)
A few years on (ahem) and email is ingrained in to most people’s work days.
It is hard imagine business functioning without it. But email is a mixed blessing for business and staff alike.
The 5 big disadvantages of email
- You can’t always infer tone.
We’ve all received an email and mistakenly thought the person was angry or upset with us and we’ve all been upset by an email when the sender did not intend that reaction. The use of emoticons such as smiley faces can help here. Sometimes, email is not the tool for a message. Pick up the phone or meet the person.
- The conversation is stilted.
Email is efficient for getting a response to a non urgent question, avoiding the need for a chat, sending a document for review. Often it is hard to have a conversation by email. On the phone or in a meeting, an idea or comment can trigger another idea or more useful, additional information can tumble out. Gestures, tone of voice and body language can also reveal important information but they are absent on email.
- Butt covering.
It is the key reason we get so many emails (too many emails). People copy lots of people into emails for several reasons. One is to show as many people as possible how clever or busy they are. Some businesses have a culture of butt covering (or really a culture of coming down hard on mistakes or lack of role accountability) so people feel they have to copy everyone in. Some people genuinely think they are doing the right thing by sharing because what they are working on is the most interesting thing going on in the company.
- Please explain.
People often take less care with email. A lack of or inappropriate headings, spelling mistakes, not attaching documents, poor sentence structure and a lack of a specific request for action triggers follow up emails or phone calls or the email being ignored. All of this costs business time and money.
- Too many emails.
Aside from the opportunity cost of staff managing emails rather than doing more productive, revenue generating tasks, storing large volumes of emails can cost businesses money.
Tips for more productive email
So, email issues are something you cannot afford to ignore. How do we keep the business benefits of email but minimise the disadvantages? It is worth having a conversation with your staff about email either individually or in a team meeting. Check that staff know the key features of your email system and how to use it efficiently.
Here are five tips that can save a lot of time and angst. In all these cases, lead by example.
- Write a useful subject heading ‚Äì EVERY TIME.
Ever get emails that just say “RE:”? You don’t know whether to open it or not. Ever get emails that are really about a topic unrelated to the email heading because the person has just taken an old email and replied. It takes a second or two to type a subject heading that tells people exactly what the email is about. That helps people to decide which to open first (or even whether to open an email at all). Include an indication of what you are asking the person to do eg “For information” or “For approval” or “For action”. Give a sense of the urgency using the function in your email system or by typing “For approval by COB today”.
- To cc or not to cc
Get staff to think about whether they need to copy in all those people. Actively discourage it and reply to staff emails to say “I don’t need to see this sort of emailing future.” The five seconds will save you thousands more in the long run. Consider a ban on the cc line. Encourage staff to pop their head around the petition or walk across the hall and ask their neighbour the question (yes, it happens a lot more than you think) rather than email them. “Do you need an email trail? Can you call them?”
- Restrict email use
I am not usually an advocate of restrictions. With the right policy, guidelines and explanation of “why” there is an issue, your staff are smart enough to regulate themselves. There may be a need to sanction a specific staff member sending inappropriate emails to all staff or to restrict some from being able to send ‘all staff’ emails.
- Don’t be a slave to email
Help your staff to get back into better work day habits. Don’t assume they have them. Get staff to have priority task lists to avoid their day getting dictated by emails. Some may need to turn off pop up email notifications. Encourage hourly checks of email or checking only after a task on the list is complete.
- Encourage and reward well constructed email
An email should get to the point straight away. The first two sentences should include a summary of the whole email. Then go on with detail in decreasing level of importance. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and simple. If it has to be long, use subheadings to make reading and comprehension easier. Avoid unnecessary attachments because they add to email storage issues and speed problems and take time for people to open.
By implementing just a few of these measures your business will save valuable time and it will help ensure the most productive tasks are being done first.
What’s your email bug bear or tip? Please share in the comments below.