Email and email management is ubiquitous with workflow and communication in probably at least 99% of workplaces in the world. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who says that they don’t really use email for work, or that it really isn’t that important to their workflow. Since growing in popularity in the mid-90’s and quickly becoming normalized in the 2000’s and beyond, email has become a staple not only in an individual’s identity over the Internet, but also an integral component in the way many companies and organizations communicated and still communicate both internally and externally.
Email and email management as a workplace essentials
Here’s some trivia for you: email was a thing as early as the 1960’s with a man named Ray Tomlinson credited as the first person to ever send an email in 1971. The Internet was hardly as widespread and accessible as it is today, so until it became popular around 1996 and beyond, email was largely used in very small circles.
But of course, things changed. For years, the role of email and email management in the workplace was undisputed. Saying that it was an important cog in the giant corporate machine would be an understatement. Especially considering the old paper communication that utilized snail mail and fax machines, email was a HUGE leap forward in terms of making communication easier. Not only was it faster, it was cheaper too (especially in the long run). Email undoubtedly played a huge role in transforming the workplaces and workspaces in the past to the form they’ve taken on today.
For example, McKinsey did a study in 2012 that showed that a significant chunk of an employee’s time in a week — a whopping 28% — was spent on email management tasks like reading and responding to emails. To put that more into perspective, someone who works for 8 hours every day would be working for 40 hours a week in a five-day workweek. That would mean that around 11.8 hours of that week would be spent reading and answering emails. That’s even more than a day’s worth of work! That number is even more significant when considering the average percentage of time spent for actual role-related tasks — 39% (note that other time is spent on searching and gathering information [19%] and communicating and collaborating internally [14%]). That email management constitutes and consumes only slightly less time than actual work is a telling example of how embedded email management culture is in today’s workforce and workflows.
Another example: an Entrepreneur article posits that the average worker would read around 50-60 emails daily on average. That’s just counting business communication, and naturally excluding non-work-related messages. A story by the Houston Chronicle pegs email as a means through which individuals, teams, and organizations could keep communication timely and more professional. The article also touted that email could help better coordination and cooperation across teams.
It’s hard to separate the concept of the modern workflow from the use of email. Even today, the basic concept of email hasn’t changed, but due to how accessible it has been made over the years, it continues to play a major role in many workplaces around the world.
The new paradigm: Minimal to zero email
However, a movement that is now lamenting the cons of email use is gaining a bigger voice and slowly getting more traction around the world. It argues that due to the massive use of email, a lot of people (from top-level executives down to the rank-and-file employees) lose an inordinate amount of time just dealing with their email management at work. As a result, many organizations lose a significant amount of productivity and much work is left undone or completed late. As such, this movement is now campaigning against email management, and advocating instead the use of alternative management and communication software in the workplace.
Especially given today’s current crop of creatives and employees, who carry a vastly different mindset and mentality in the workplace compared to older generations, email and email management could very well be on its way out, particularly in a professional and / or corporate setting. A Forbes story goes into detail about this phenomenon, citing social media, instant messaging, and texting as the preferred modes of communication of the younger, more tech-savvy crop of workers and employees. It cites a Pew study that indicates that only 6% of teens have ever sent emails — despite 95% of the survey sample population having an online presence, with 81% actively using social media. That just goes to show how different younger generations view communication; and this naturally is carried over to the workplaces and workforces they are or going to be a part of.
And this movement isn’t just limited to small businesses. Even large corporate entities have picked up on the trend, and are actively moving towards a zero-email workplace environment. Another Forbes story shines the spotlight on Atos origin, an information technology services firm that is based in France. CEO Thierry Breton instigated a ban on email in 2011, and targeted a three-year timeframe for completely eliminating the use of email in the company. Not a task for the faint of heart nor one to be taken lightly — Atos employs more than 70,000 people, who work in more than 40 locations all over the globe.
Another big company, Cisco (which is also a bit ironic, since Cisco is a massive technology and communications company) also moved towards eliminating the tediousness of email management in their workflow. The move emanated from Peter Hughes, Cisco’s director of collaboration.
The argument for phasing out email
Atos CEO Thierry Breton, in his statement regarding the company’s zero-email target said, “We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives.” He added, “We are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.”
Taking the same tack, Cisco’s Hughes had this to say: “Email has become abused. It’s causing a lack of productivity. The email thread [or] chain can go viral through an organization but there are people who don’t need to be on the list.” He went as far as fining two employees $50 each, one for sending an email containing the link to Hughes’ statement, and the other for sending it via email to the whole organization, according to a story from the Sydney Morning Herald.
The bottom line of the argument against email is that its large role in the workplace is exactly what’s wrong with it. Emails are time killers and productivity killers. The McKinsey study cites that ditching email in favor of alternatives like social technology could potentially increase worker productivity by as much as 20% to 25%. Imagine the impact of such a productivity boost, especially in large organizations that continue to strongly employ the use of email but would transition to alternative forms of communication.
The nature of email is such that it has become commonplace for people to be inundated with useless and irrelevant messages day in and day out. And these are all legitimate professional communication. If you include spam and personal emails, the deluge of messages one has to deal with increases significantly. Even cyberthieves have realized this — phishing, the attempt to collect one’s personal data through fake email messages, capitalizes on this phenomenon, counting on users who are mindlessly going through the motions of email management to make a mistake and click a link or download a file they’re not supposed to.
Not to mention that email is grossly out of date; its operating principles have remained largely unchanged for decades. While a couple of decades ago it was “fast”, today, it’s a poor tool for good back-and-forth discussion. Why is that important? Because today’s workforce is one that sees (or is growing to see) the value of greater collaboration. And integral to that collaboration is active and dynamic back-and-forth discussion. Workers crave to throw ideas back and forth, and especially in setups where teams are located in multiple sites or offices, email is just a horrible way to go about collaborating with others.
Alternatives to email
Thankfully, there are a lot of alternatives to using email for communicating in companies and organizations. Readily available social communication tools exist, and so do proprietary social platforms. Pushing for a larger use of these technologies promise better rewards and return on investment (especially for proprietary technology).
There are also very good third party programs and offerings that eliminate the need to invest in proprietary, in-house developed communication platforms. Take Runrun.it for example. It touts an all-in-one approach to managing workflows and workforces. Its innovative and pioneering Smart Time Tracker goes well beyond the traditional time tracking function, since it also allows for better time management and monitoring for individuals and teams alike. You can, for example, see how long a person or team needs to complete tasks on average, or monitor the progress of current tasks and see how much time has been spent completing them. The opportunities are endless, and the relevant data can be easily generated and is part of the program.
Another, the Dashboard function, gives access to even more workflow management data and reports. This allows decision-makers, management, and leaders to make more informed decisions on managing the workflow to make it more efficient and productive. This includes, of course, making communication “less noisy” and more direct and time-effective. To see the benefits that would make a positive impact on your particular organization, check out the free trial here.