A college teacher in a school for higher education sent an email with best wishes for this last Holiday Season to all of his students. To his surprise, not a single one of them had actually seen, opened or read his warm greetings. Email’s best times may be over, and not only among students. Better alternatives are available.
More and more managers and even entire respectable companies, such as Atos, Capgemini, Intel and Klick (a Canadian digital marketing company), have reported to be saying goodbye to email too, as has been commented in the Financial Times of last December 19th. Why would that be?
One good reason is that other media are simply more powerful and taking over. Chats are much more appealing and immediate than email, as is Twitter and messaging through social media. Of course, the teacher should have sent a brief message on Facebook to reach all of his students.
But many people are not only jumping into a new fad. They’re also running away from something that doesn’t work. Email just isn’t a very good means of communication. People are often overheard complaining about the tremendous amount of email they get on a daily basis, directed at them personally, or as a cc or bcc. As a result, cc’s are often not read at all, and even direct emails are easily overseen. For the sender this is frustrating: Has my email been read or not? How long should I wait for an answer? Shall I send a reminder email? And indeed, this often leads to yet another email being sent, further constipating the receivers’ inbox. It has been calculated, that companies are losing up to 20 days per person per year, due to inefficient use of email.
When looking at the nature of many emails, it seems unclear why they’re being sent at all. More often than not, emails are sent for political reasons, just in order to make sure that nobody can blame anyone for not having been informed. I’ve sent you an email, haven’t you read that?
Also, email is being used to find a suitable moment for settling an appointment. Although email happens to be one of the least appropriate ways to do so. It’s way easier to pick up the phone, to check both calendars at the same time and make the appointment. Or to take a few more minutes during a meeting, in order to make the followup appointment right then and there. Or to schedule and have regular meetings on a daily or weekly basis. Or to use a calendar tool that allows to look in each-others’ calendars and to make appointments on open slots.
Sometimes email is used for providing feedback on a text, presentation, or on a performance. This happens to be not very valuable either. Almost always it’s needed to discuss ideas and feedback more thoroughly, preferably face-to-face, but at least by phone. Just to get more clarity on additional meaning, intentions, backgrounds, to develop further thoughts and to ensure that the document or performance really gets better and brings us closer to a solution.
In Lean and Agile Project Management we try to avoid email when we can. Better alternatives include:
- Working in single piece flow: Picking up work on a project and finish it;
- Working in the same room (obeya) -where we can easily talk to each other face-to-face-;
- Using the phone, chat or instant messaging for quick dialogues with co-workers who are not in the same room;
- Having regular and frequent meetings:
- Iteration Meetings for planning the work, including work on process improvement;
- Standup Meetings for daily co-ordination;
- Brainstorms Meetings on special topics with the experts only;
- Working continuously in kaizen teams to solve problems and to improve the overall process.
- Keeping track of our work and progress in a decent Lean and Agile Project Management tool, such as our Waypoint;
- Having lunch with colleagues and weekly drinks to do the social stuff.
Using these alternatives, we allow ourselves to always be on track with relevant issues on planning and execution, to discuss things only once and also to solve possible problems one by one. It allows us to wait with our most urgent questions or remarks until the next meeting and to spend way more time working without interruptions. It also prevents us from a lot of misunderstanding and lost hours on email. These hours become available to further improve our service or production and to improve our life-work balance.