Why has Email grown to become the dominant and preferred mode of business communication?
In short, because it is effective, efficient, fast, and accurate!
Email supports the virtualization of modern business practices and helps enable the growing trend in telecommuting. Many types of business activities, including collaborative projects with those in different time zones, become possible through the use of Email.
Yet despite Email’s numerous benefits, the excessive volume of messages and their constant interruptions result in “Email Overload”. And this leads to lost messages, missed deadlines, and difficulty storing and retrieving information. Work also becomes “fragmented”, leading to lower productivity, errors, omissions, and reduced decision making abilities.
But Email itself is not the primary problem. Rather, it is how we use (and abuse) Email as a communication media that is the underlying source of our challenges.
There was a time (not so long ago) when the telephone was our primary source of personal and business communications. You would come into the office in the morning, see the “dreaded blinking voicemail light”, and listen to the messages that accumulated since you left the office. Your day started with reviewing these messages and returning calls.
Information overload issues existed even back then with these older communications options. This included:
- excessive time spent on phone calls,
- frequent checking of voicemails (including in the evenings, weekends, and vacations)
- the infamous “voicemail phone tag game” (i.e.: “returning your message… call me… tag… you’re it.”).
Some people even exceeded their voicemail mailbox limitations so you could not even leave them messages.
Sound familiar to the overload issues we face with Email today?
We can identify similar problems with other past communication methods:
- fax machines (with its communication failures and “lost pages”)
- pagers (remember those… with people often having several clipped to their belts?),
- formal letters that had to be written, proofed, and delivered (often… and still… by expensive, overnight delivery).
And today, we’re seeing new challenges with managing communications:
- the growing array of social media networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook),
- collaborative environments (Google hangouts, Microsoft Sharepoint, Hyperoffice)
- real-time media (Instant Messaging, Webex, Skype).
But we shouldn’t blame the media as the source of our issues, or give up and declare “Email bankruptcy” (which isn’t feasible for most in the business world).
Rather, we need to instead focus our efforts on teaching individuals and organizations how to use the right type of media for the right types of situations.
Technology training needs to teach how to use the features of our tools and systems more effectively. Organizational training needs to explain how to collaborate more appropriately within our businesses. Behavioral training needs to coach people in how to change our behaviors and work more efficiently. And we all need to learn how to avoid distractions and improve the overall quality of our communications.
The bottom line is that our focus shouldn’t be so much on the issues of a specific tool, but rather on investing personal and organizational resources in targeted training. Training will help to improve knowledge, skills, and fluency of individuals and groups across all available media types.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Einstein is a full-time business technology professional for a large multi-national corporation and holds an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, an MBA in Information Technology, and a Doctorate in Business Administration.
His doctoral dissertation was on the intersection of Email processing skills, Email overload, and technology training. He is very active in Email overload research and belongs to several information overload organizations.
He recently launched a new website:
as a way to share information , resources and approaches to help others learn to better manage their inboxes and reduce their information and Email overload levels.