You're Sending Too Much Email - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Software // Productivity/Collaboration Apps
Commentary
11/4/2014
09:06 AM
Shane O'Neill
Shane O'Neill
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
50%
50%

You're Sending Too Much Email

Myriad communications tools are available, but most of us keep falling back on email. Here's why that's a mistake.

I love email, but I also hate it.

Despite the alternative communications tools at my disposal that I don't use enough at work, I feel trapped in an email cage. It's a productive cage, but a cage nonetheless.

There's a good argument, outlined in a survey of 250 IT managers and 750 line-of-business employees by managed services provider Softchoice, that non-email communications tools sit idle because they're deployed without knowing what employees need from them.

Perhaps a larger problem is that employees don't know what they need from them either, and the tools go unused while we send group emails to 27 people.

Consider these numbers from the Softchoice survey: Seventy percent of respondents said their company has deployed video conferencing tools, but a measly 5% of employees use them every day. The usage numbers for other communications tools don't fare much better: teleconferencing (69% deployed, 12% use every day), screensharing (60%/8%), social collaboration tools (40%/10%).

[Adding another tool won't cure email overload. Read Google Inbox Won't Fix CYA.]

We're still mostly old-school about how we communicate. At work, we like to speak in person or via email and instant messaging (IM had a 68% deployment rate, and 40% everyday use rate). The desk phone remains a strong form of communication (with an 86% deployed/82% everyday use ratio). This struck me as a surprisingly high use percentage as I've found the phone has become a last resort. But I suppose that depends on your job.

(Source: Softchoice)
(Source: Softchoice)

While we may yearn for face-to-face time, that's harder to pull off with more workers in remote or home offices. This is the new normal of work, but it's left people leaning on that passive-aggressive beast called email. A report from Radicati Group last year on email statistics found that more than 100 billion business e-mails were sent in 2013 every day, and that number is predicted to pass 130 billion by 2017.

Email's lure is understandable. It casts a wide net and can solve problems quickly. It's become as comfortable as an old winter coat. I couldn't do my job without it.

The deployed versus everyday use numbers for email in the Softchoice survey are 97% deployed, 95% everyday use. Yep, email owns us. For all the talk of email's demise brought on by social media -- especially among hip startups and Millennials who see email as a lumbering oaf -- email's very much alive at businesses.

But we need to loosen its grip on our throats.

Who hasn't seen their inbox turn into a fire hose of messages from co-workers and the outside world that leaves you at the mercy of a daily email deluge? It's a distracting game of whack-a-mole that Slows. You. Down.

Obviously, we can't kill email. It will remain a necessary tool for communicating with external sources like clients, customers, and the like. But for internal teams, it's time we give the collaboration tools highlighted in the Softchoice survey more of a chance to lighten the email load.

Video conferencing platforms like Skype and Cisco WebEx offer a humanizing complement to email, but social collaboration tools like Yammer, Chatter, and others can replace email for much of your team's communication and document sharing. And email, for all its comfort, is terrible at building rapport among far-flung colleagues (more group emails? Really??), whereas chatrooms within social collaboration tools excel at it.

The low adoption rates of these tools are a bit baffling given the potential productivity benefits -- only 40% of respondents in the Softchoice study say their companies have deployed social collaboration tools, with 10% of employees using them every day. And you really need to use them every day or they get dusty. But if employees aren't using them, can you blame IT for holding back on deployments?

What's needed is a combination of IT groups deploying the technology and educating employees and team leaders devising concrete plans to use the tools consistently to do better work. But listen to employees. They are overwhelmed by email, but need help in breaking the habit. Most unified communications tools fail, according to the Softchoice study, because employees are left out of the process.

I'll leave you with five tips for IT groups from the Softchoice report on helping employees use (and keep using) unified communications tools:

1. Consult: Survey and create a vision by talking with employees to understand what will make their jobs easier.

2. Communicate: Make it clear to employees what problems the new tool will solve for them.

3. Educate: Thoroughly train employees on how to use the new tool.

4. Measure: Set objective, measurable adoption goals and benchmarks pre-rollout and monitor progress.

5. Repeat: Continually seek employee input, address employee hesitations, and measure user adoption.

Apply now for the 2015 InformationWeek Elite 100, which recognizes the most innovative users of technology to advance a company's business goals. Winners will be recognized at the InformationWeek Conference, April 27-28, 2015, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Application period ends Jan. 9, 2015.

Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at CIO.com, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
David F. Carr
IW Pick
100%
0%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 10:55:02 AM
If the boss moves off email, the team moves off email
When I was researchng my Social Collaboration for Dummies book, the most successful example of a socbiz tool replacing email came from OpenTable. The sales manager there told his staff he didn't want to see reports from the field showing up in his email inbox; he wanted to see them in Chatter instead so the whole sales team could see them and learn from them.

Of course, even the members of that team had to switch to email whenever they needed to communicate outside of the organization. That's one of the hurdles to adopting social collaboration tools - instead of one stream of messages, you have to manage two. Really more than two if you count your public social media, your voicemail, text messages, and so on.

So if you're going to cram another communication channel into people's work lives, you need to show them how it is different and how that difference can be valuable. If it's a better way of getting the boss's attention and connecting with your peers, then suddenly it makes all the sense in the world.
Shane M. O'Neill
50%
50%
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 11:33:47 AM
Re: If the boss moves off email, the team moves off email
Amen Dave. The OpenTable example is a good argument for reducing email among work teams. I agree that a social collaboration stream at work is yet another comunication channel to manage, and we all have enough to manage. But it's worth it if it curbs the email avalanche, with an upside of improved teamwork/productivity. But like most things it takes a boss to say, "No more emailing of reports. We're using this social tool now. Here's the plan."
ChrisMurphy
100%
0%
ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 11:45:06 AM
Re: If the boss moves off email, the team moves off email
Then there are the collaboration systems that increase your email input. I can think of three collaboration or project management systems I use, meant to replace email for work requests or announcements, that generate automated alerts of status changes or new posts in my email system. Part of the answer is managing those alerts -- I've dialed one back through settings so it's much better. But some of those email alerts are essential, so I don't have to monitor more than one channel. So I'm not ready to sever those from my email, which remains my central communication console.    
Shane M. O'Neill
50%
50%
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 1:05:58 PM
Re: If the boss moves off email, the team moves off email
Oh the irony. In an effort to wean off email we create more emails about the activities of non-email communication tools! But I do think when a social tool like Yammer works well it becomes part of peoples' work day enough that email alerts are superfluous.

However email is still the place we check most often so sending alerts there for any kind of activity makes sense. I guess it's up to the user to figure out which email alerts are redundant and decrease their frequency or shut em off.
Thomas Claburn
50%
50%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 4:17:45 PM
Re: If the boss moves off email, the team moves off email
Email is pretty much perfect in theory. It just lacks a good standard gating mechanism. I'd be really happy with my inbox if everyone who wanted to contact me had to be whitelisted or pass some anti-spam challenge.
Shane M. O'Neill
50%
50%
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 11:12:53 AM
Re: Moving on
Yep, email is good for keeping people at arm's length and no-rush communication, both of which are necessary. So there will always be a place for email. But I've seen the dangers of it becoming the only tool in your toolbox, especially among spread out internal teams. Phone and IM are a better line to individuals and social collaboration tools are a better line to group work. As for the outside world, email is still king. But we need to thin the herd (and the inbox!).
Shane M. O'Neill
50%
50%
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 4:19:46 PM
Re: If the boss moves off email, the team moves off email
@jastroff You're right, getting off email is a top down effort -- I probably didn't emphasize that enough in the column. People hate change, so the boss needs to mandate using socbiz tools. Draw a line in the sand. I applaud the tactic by OpenTable of warning salespeople against sending reports via email and to use Chatter instead.

Your story about your manager printing out emails makes me cringe!
Slideshows
11 Things IT Professionals Wish They Knew Earlier in Their Careers
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  4/6/2021
News
Time to Shift Your Job Search Out of Neutral
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  3/31/2021
Commentary
Does Identity Hinder Hybrid-Cloud and Multi-Cloud Adoption?
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  4/1/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Successful Strategies for Digital Transformation
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Slideshows
Flash Poll