This week I want to fire up a debate about how you communicate with your colleagues at work.
Specifically, I want to kick-start a conversation that inspires you to look at ways to reduce the time you spend on email!
This isn’t going to be a balanced argument.
It can’t be as I’m trying to help you break a dangerous habit.
A habit that is killing your companies ability to collaborate and innovate.
So read on to find out why email kills companies, what steps you can take to swap out email from your day-to-day life and perhaps most importantly, what support you’ll need to break the habit.
Oh…and if you do have ideas you want to share back…., please don’t email me, rather leave your views in the comments section below!!
8 REASONS WHY EMAIL IS KILLING COMPANIES
So let’s kick things off by describing just some of the negative consequences your organisation faces from widespread email addiction.
1. Email exacerbates knowledge hoarding
What is your companies most important asset?
It might not be booked to the balance sheet but your value is inextricably tied to the ‘accessible knowledge’ you and your colleagues hold now and create for each other in the future.
So it must stand to reason that the more knowledge you share, the more valuable your company becomes?
And just as groups power-up from knowledge sharing, individuals can power-up at your companies expense, from knowledge hoarding.
Interestingly, whether personal hoarding is driven wilfully or incidentally it doesn’t matter.
Sharing information via Email guarantees that it will only be accessible for short periods to a limited number of staff.
2. Email cultivates a Machiavellian environment
A Machiavellian culture would be one where individuals attempt to ‘win’ through deception, scheming, and other unscrupulous behaviours.
And email is the perfect tool for those with machiavellian intent.
Indeed, many senior executives have used email to help their ascent to the throne.
Some use auto-send to create the impression they are busy working late.
Others deliberately miss out key individuals from email chains, so their ideas are not challenged.
Yet more escape liability from failures, by asserting that they were only cc’d and therefore were justifiably ignorant of the issues.
And wilfully ignoring mails isn’t only helpful in defence. In offence, ignoring your colleague’s emails is a simple and effective tool to demotivate others.
3. Email proliferates opacity
The more opaque an organisation is, the less likely it is to succeed.
Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, has clearly demonstrated the benefits of radical transparency in everything from removing unconscious bias in decision-making to building confidence across individuals and teams.
Yet email’s capacity to reduce transparency is boundless. And without transparency, you limit the potential of everything from product innovation to quality decision making.
4. Email etiquette is too antiquated for an exponential world
Email was revolutionary when it was introduced, but sadly many of the rituals from the days of letting writing were needlessly carried over.
So emails must be written in a certain style to conform.
Pleasantries must be extended.
Paragraphs must be formed.
Sentences must be conjugated correctly.
To’s and Cc’s need to be considered.
The list of expected do’s and don’ts is endless.
Put together this simply wastes significant time as everyone focuses on etiquette, rather than running the business.
Worse still, you cannot easily bypass these customs as it would be deemed rude and likely bring scrutiny from the ‘values’ police.
5. Email conversations delay decision-making
Emails might travel thousands of miles in milliseconds, but organisations don’t realise the benefits of instant communication.
More likely the process goes….
Wait some more…….
Follow up email……
Wait…..Receive a response…….
Now you have no time to respond……
Write a response…….Wait…..
Email is actually the perfect system to prolongate conversations from minutes to weeks.
6. Emails exacerbate the levels of hyperbolic discounting
Hyperbolic discounting occurs when you choose smaller, immediate rewards rather than larger, later ones.
Email platforms provide the perfect environment for this cognitive bias to manifest and proliferate.
For example, the desire to clear your inbox can be overwhelming.
Hours are wasted deleting, archiving, tagging and filing. In the worst cases, you reply to emails, which didn’t even deserve to be read.
These lost hours, become years of wasted labour efforts when multiplied across the workforce.
7. Emails increase stress levels
Managing emails in a corporate environment is stressful at every level.
Why didn’t my boss respond?
Did the “CAPS” response mean my colleague is angry?
I’m worried I might have offended someone with my last email?
Perhaps I shouldn’t have included Bob in my last response?
I feel I am not doing a good job if I don’t read and clear every email in my inbox.
I didn’t understand the last email. Everyone else probably did and I now feel stupid.
I don’t know whether email is the number one stress inducer within a corporate environment, but I’d hypothesise it’s got to be there or thereabouts?
8. Email normalises and magnifies dysfunctional behaviours, such as the previous 7 examples.
Email has created a communication system as powerful and complex as any social, political, legal, religious, criminal, educational or monetary equivalent.
And like all such systems, it works because of viral network effects that induce individuals to conform with the many.
The downside is that individuals start to wilfully ignore the dysfunctional aspects and become naturally resistive to embracing change.
The ubiquitous and habitual nature of email elevate these negative aspects exponentially.
Those that break convention and try to share there knowledge for example, are treated with suspicion…
Those that try to save time with twitteresque responses are deemed rude.
So while email remains the prevalent workhorse within your organisation, unwanted behaviours are magnified and the opportunities provided from using more productive systems are foregone.
7 ALTERNATIVES TO EMAIL
Perhaps it’s not surprising therefore that so many new alternatives are available to help alleviate organisations from ‘email’ pains.
Here are 7alternatives to email, that could save you time, improve your culture, increase transparency and enable faster, better decision making.
1. Restrict your emails to five sentences or less
Ok, it’s not an alternative, but if you absolutely have to send an email, try to restrict your word count to five sentences or less.
Adding this footer will help your readers understand you are trying to be more productive, not rude.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
2. Organise your emails kanban style
It’s actually staggering how little development has come from email providers to help users increase their productivity.
Which is why I was taken by this novel approach to managing your inbox.
In the end, it didn’t help me, but you never know. It might be a life-changer for you!
Find out more at — https://kanbanmail.app/
3. Try to make all of your written communications ‘public’
Next time you want to share information, ask how you could do so in a way that makes it available for all. Examples could include….
- Creating a public wiki for you and your colleagues. There are now plenty of online guides to get you started, such as this one.
- Start holding conversations in public groups on platforms such as Slack, Mighty Networks, Chatter or Tribe.
4. Stop writing, Start Vlogging
If you use social media platforms you may have noticed more and more video and sound content is being produced?
Why? Because engagement levels increase massively!!
So instead of writing to your colleagues, why not create short sound or video files for them instead?
It may sound more time consuming (it is), but if it drives better engagement then it’s worth it.
And if you feel you have a face for radio, then what about making a podcast for your colleagues? Check out Buzzsprout for more information than I imagined possible about how to do this quickly and effectively.
(note — if you have children, the fastest way to get started is to ask them to help you!)
5. Record and share your meetings
If you fancy copying Ray Dalio (see above), then I’d recommend you read his book Principles.
One of his suggestions which I guarantee will have profound implications, is to record every management meeting you attend. And then allow anyone in your organisation access.
This won’t directly reduce email usage, but the more transparent you become, the more obvious it becomes that email is a poor medium for information exchanges.
It’s also an exercise which is worth doing just to observe how meeting behaviours radically changes for the better.
6. Talk more…, email (and meet) less.
The simplest way to email less is to talk more.
This is again where platforms like Zoom can bring huge benefits.
Not only will you ‘virtually’ meet more people, you’ll also find you save significant time as you don’t spend hours every week walking from meeting room to meeting room. The better platforms will also let you record and transcribe the session, making it easy to find discussions with basic search mechanisms.
Best of all, many of these services are available for free!
7. Message first, email never.
Finally, I know a number of senior executives who have told their colleagues they will only respond on instant messaging platforms.
One of the biggest benefits of these platforms is that it’s easier to be informal, brief and opinionated.
For example, GIF’s, acronyms and Emoji’s make it easier to show feelings and opinions.
And unlike email, there is a new etiquette being created which is all about expressing yourself clearly within the shortest time possible.
BREAKING THE EMAIL HABIT WILL BE HARD
There is no point sugar-coating how hard it is going to be to ditch email.
Before you can start replacing email with healthier alternatives, you are going to have to commit to ‘stop’ doing something that feels natural and ‘start’ trying things that feel ‘alien’.
Going it alone is not something I’d recommend as it’ll be a career-limiting move.
Instead, try to garner senior support to experiment with these ideas…all of which have been instrumental in helping millions of people drop another bad habit….smoking!
- Make the user experience harder
For cigarette manufacturers, this came from shops refusing to sell products and the banning of smoking inside buildings.
An email equivalent could come from blocking usage at certain set times of the day, at least for internal mails.
Another option could be to further reduce attachment size limits.
2. Add punitive pricing through taxation
Microsoft’s 360 pricing is already pretty expensive, but perhaps it’s still not expensive enough?
How about penalising users who hit volume thresholds for internal mail traffic, to encourage them to switch to more social platforms?
Or what about offering monetary rebates and/or discounts for those teams that demonstrably reduce their email usage.
3. Offer (and advertise) Substitutes
If you want colleagues to reduce email, then you are going to have to offer (and advertise) substitutes.
You’ll need to find your e-cigarette equivalents and make sure your colleagues believe this is a better option for them.
Fortunately, in companies, you have the advantage of a captive audience so marketing with mailers and banners might be enough to start a movement.
If that’s not enough then try using gamification (e.g. leaderboards, kudos and awards), to further incentivise the desired behavioural change.
You can also be explicit about the dangers of email use, without having to worry about being fined by an advertising standards body!
4. Use Influencers (perhaps the most important but hardest suggestion)
The theory is simple.
If organisational influencers reduce their email usage and prioritise communicating with colleagues on social platforms you’ll see group-wide shifts in behaviour very quickly.
It’s also incredibly easy to identify the influencers. The executive management team are influencers by default, because of their positions in the hierarchy of the organisation.
The practical problem, of course, is working out how to get the leaders to change their behaviours. Especially where the majority have used email for 25+ years and are naturally more resistive to change.
With that, I’ll sign out with this bastardised quote…
The only thing necessary for the triumph of ‘email’ is that good people (like you) do nothing!
Have a great week you good people and if you decide to make the switch I’m rooting for you!
P.S. Conversing with you, the reader is what inspires me to write articles like this one. So, whether you want to critique, challenge or share ideas and experiences, do comment back!