As a teenager just entering the world of business I had to go through a serious adjustment. The communication conventions – with email as the default for everything – were something I had not come across before.
Even though the company I work for has access to instant messaging (IM) and collaboration tools, these are often overlooked in favour of email, which I imagine is common practice in a lot of organisations.
As a consequence, I had to get used to the wide variety of types of communication email was used for and then the etiquette surrounding email. Whether it was copying in the right people or sending back an acknowledgement in the form of a ‘thank you’ or ‘see you there’, the whole system was foreign to me.
There are better ways than email
People my age did not grow up with email as a central part of our lives before entering the world of work – other than using it to register for social networking or other web services. Why? Because in a lot of circumstances there are much more efficient ways of communicating. And we don’t just use one mechanism either.
Those of us who have grown up with the web naturally use more immediate forms of communication – texting, IM, voice or video conferencing, social media, etc. These are the tools we use for chit-chat and banter, through to arranging events, keeping up with everyone’s news and sharing content.
More on social media
I’m not suggesting that migrating from email entirely is the way forward, but neither is continuing to use it for so many things that it is not best suited for. Of course there are benefits to email – its universal use makes it great for external communication, but internally there are sometimes more efficient alternatives and downsides definitely exist.
Time to look at alternatives
Often when sorting through my inbox I have to wade through piles of casual and non-urgent communication before reaching the key stuff, which is a huge amount of extra work and wasted time. The sheer volume of email then leads to the risk that important messages get overlooked.
If email is the primary method of communication in your organisation, perhaps it is time to take a look at alternatives to work alongside it. Many vendors offer social collaboration systems, some of which I have been looking at recently. These services allow you to combine the best of both worlds – mechanisms for people to communicate and share much more freely and easily, while at the same time allowing you to define and apply policies around things like security and compliance.
In the meantime, I realise that I need to learn to how to use email properly, and I’m getting there. But from where I am sitting, there are others in business who should be using it a lot less. Embracing more instant and social forms of communication and collaboration – the stuff people my age do naturally – could allow people to work together a lot more efficiently and effectively.
Jack Vile is a student analyst at Freeform Dynamics
This was first published in July 2014