Summary: Email was never meant to be used as an internal collaboration software, so why is it still the go-to source for information sharing? We’ve listed some common mistakes that emails fail us and solutions to improve collaboration.
We’ve all experienced that ‘OH NO’ moment, either on the receiving end or as the sender of an email that should not have been sent. Perhaps you cc’d the wrong person, been stuck on a ‘reply-all’ chain that’s not relevant to you, missed an important memo that went to your junk mail, wasted time on a phishing email, didn’t delete casual conversation before forwarding it off to your boss, or activated a virus by opening an attachment. Whatever the case, email is just not working.
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Whether you grew up with it or had to learn it halfway through your career, technology is the main method of communication in today’s workplace, and it’s evolving quickly.
But with a heavy reliance on a system that often fails, here are a few tips to help thwart common mistakes that happen over email:
1. Don’t Make Assumptions
‘But I sent you an email!’
When you send an email, the assumption is that it has been read, and/or an action has been taken. But you know what they say about making assumptions…
Emails get drowned in busy mailboxes, sent to the wrong person, put aside, forgotten, redirected to a junk mail folder, deleted by accident, or ignored on purpose. It’s impossible to tell which of these is the case, but we tend to make inferences on the receiver’s intentions, without consulting them first.
The email looked real!
Whether it’s a slight inconvenience of a phishing scam, spam, or damages caused by a virus, emails fail at blocking out fraud. Most people can identify phishing scams from a Persian prince asking for your bank account number, and it’s just a slight annoyance. But fraud scammers are becoming savvier by imitating recognizable organizations or coming through trusted emails. Spam filters don’t catch every email and our inboxes are already bursting at the seams.
2. Stop (Mis)Communication Issues in the Workplace
Are my emails sending the wrong message?
Our casual texting habits can translate negatively over to professional emails. For example, a millennial responding ‘LOL’ to their baby boomer boss will likely cause some confusion, or a male colleague sending a 😉 can be misconstrued as flirtatious. Just as the dress code in an office depends on the culture, communication must follow suit. Since there’s no email equivalent of casual Fridays, it’s safer to stay on the side of professionalism and match the level of formality to your relationship with the recipient.
Misinterpreted tone is a major contributor to inter-departmental silos. ALL CAPS or too much punctuation!!!!!!! is often interpreted as being abrupt or rude. A lack of non-verbal information such as facial expressions, body posture, gestures or voice tone means that additional attention must be paid to word selection, syntax, capital letters, sentence length, emoticons, and emoji. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked. If the message is ambiguous, it can be misconstrued as negative. If it’s over punctuated with emoji’s, casual acronyms and an abundance of exclamation marks, it can be perceived as unprofessional.
TIP – carefully craft your messages before sending them out into the world of emails where they cannot be retracted. Asses your relationship with the receiver and match your wording with the level of formality.
3. Eliminate the Problem: Eliminate Emails
Trash The ‘All-Staff’ Emails / Reply alls
Still sending ‘all-staff’ emails? Perhaps instead you can send that memo on a messenger pigeon. Do you know how many emails your employees are getting a day? How many messages get lost or drowned or set aside for later and forgotten? If you have evaluated this method of communication and you know for a fact that no emails are missed by your staff, kudos to you! However, if you still experience communication issues in the workplace, try switching up the tools you use to share information.
Emails Interrupt Productivity and Promote Stress
‘A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email’ discusses how emails have been a “disastrous” interruption to productivity as it promotes continuous interruption to projects to shift focus to ad hoc projects. “A consequence of this workflow is that an organization’s tasks become entangled in a complicated network of dependencies with inbox-enslaved individuals sited at each node. The only way to keep the productive energy flowing through this network is for everyone to continually check, send, and reply to the multitude of messages flowing past—all in an attempt to drive tasks, in an ad hoc manner, toward completion.”- Cal Newport.
Dr. David Burkus, a professor at Oral Roberts University and host of the podcast Radio Free Leader completed a research study in 2016 about improving productivity in the workplace by banning emails. Burkus states that although email is our most common collaboration tool we use today, that was never it’s intended purpose. Of the companies he studied, replacing emails with other collaboration software has a direct correlation with increased productivity and reduced stress. We rely heavily on emails, and with working across time zones and flexible schedules, emails are being sent at all times of the day. We feel obliged to respond immediately which has been interrupting family time and preventing individuals from being able to unplug. These both lead to heightened levels of stress levels and burnout. The second factor is that when emails constantly interrupt our work. It’s hindering our ability to focus on cognitively demanding tasks by taking attention away from what we were working on.
With emails serving as interruptions to our work, adding stress to our personal life, hindering productivity, generating silos, and misperceived notions of the sender’s intent, why are we relying so heavily on this collaboration tool that obstructs collaboration?
Internal Collaboration Software That Replaces Emails
Encourage free-flowing communication by using better internal communication tools for different purposes:
- Message Boards – for brief ‘wall-like’ updates.
- Discussion Forums – eliminate having to sift through the ‘reply-all’ chain by posting ongoing topics of discussion your employees can contribute to or refer to get caught up.
- Live Chat – for a quick response.
- Status Updates – remote employees and territory managers out on the road can share their location.
- Company News – replace ‘all-staff’ emails by posting important notices in the company news.
Avoid interruptions by keeping content fresh and in a central location where your employees can access them whenever they need. No more sifting through old emails for the newest version. No more bothering Bill in IT for the Wifi password. Absolutely no more shared drive folders where only one person knows where each document is stored.
- Knowledge Base – every organization needs to have a central location their employees can access for simple answers to common questions. Store your Wifi password, instructions for voicemail access, benefits information, workplace dress code and anything imperative to running daily operations.
- Content Management Software – sending attachments over email can be a headache. They can be blocked or bounce back. Searching through multiple files for the correct version is a waste of time. Sifting through emails is inefficient. Avoid sending documents by saving them to a central location where employees can find the most up to date version.
- Automatic archiving – instead of letting emails clutter your inbox until it’s full and requires a time-consuming cleanup, post what you need to the intranet and set an auto archive date so content stays relevant.
- Read and Agree – stop sending documents via email and expecting your busy employees not to miss it. Don’t waste any more time following up with everyone to make sure they read it. Post it online with a read and agree. This way you can track who’s up to date and who needs a reminder.
- Approval processes – switching to workflows has the ability to bring approval times down from weeks to hours.
Important notifications get missed. Be proactive in ensuring the message gets across. Ever had a bad experience with email? Leave us a note below!