How much time do you spend checking your emails? Chances are you can’t get through this email without being tempted to check your inbox or at least get momentarily distracted by a notification popping up on the bottom of your screen. Emails have been the staple form of business communication for over thirty years, but what are they doing for productivity? It comes down to that age old argument, just because we have always done things a certain way, does that mean it’s the best way?
Emails Are Time Consuming
A study last year concluded that U.S. workers spend 6.3 hours per day checking their emails, with 3.2 hours devoted to work emails and 3.1 hours to personal messages. Not only does this eat into work and leisure time, it also indicates an unhealthy habit border lining on addiction. In the poll commissioned by Adobe Systems Inc, it was also revealed that 80% of survey respondents check their emails before getting to the office and 30% check while in bed in the morning. 50% check on their vacations too! Millennials check their emails the most often, with 45% tapping in as soon as they wake up. As popular as emails are in work culture, 40% of respondents remarked that they wished to receive fewer emails per day.
Emails Are Bad for your Health
What health impact does email have on workers? In another study, researchers Gloria Mark and Stephen Voida from the University of California at Irvine and Armand Cardello from the U.S. Army cut off email usage for 13 civilian information workers and measured the effects in terms of stress levels. During an initial three day assessing period, participants were interviewed and observed through computer monitoring software which examined their heart rates after which email programs were then removed from their computers. After a five days of no access to emails, participants began communicating face-to-face and over the telephone and the majority of participants spent more time in other computer programs, suggesting that they were more focused on and accomplishing their day to day tasks without the distraction of emails. Also, they experienced lower stress levels, were more relaxed and productive.
So what is it about emails that causes stress and diminished productivity? The answer is simple: emails require us to try and multitask. Multitasking causes us to not give the attention required for one task. It can cause us to feel overwhelmed and not performing at our peak productivity.
Emails Aren’t Collaborative
Email is great for communicating brief requests and messages, however it is not ideal for collaborating on projects. We’ve all experienced frustrations of reply-all endless threads, and forwarding archaic conversations to the relevant people. The problem with emails is that if changes or updates happen with a project, rerouting the information to appropriate people is not simple. You cannot simply add people to a real time conversation. Combine that with unclear subject lines, tangents and multiple projects and you have a confusing set up not conducive to clear decision making and accountability.
Emails Kill Productivity
After decades of playing clean-up with our inboxes and validating our work days with the sense of accomplishment of “getting something done” after seeing the unread number scale down to zero, we are finally coming around to the idea that a well filtered, spam-free inbox does not equal productivity.
That’s right, a well-organized inbox doesn’t mean you’re doing your job well, after all, a key component of productivity is collaboration, something an email application lacks. “The frontier of human productive capacity today is the power of extended collaboration — the ability to work together beyond the scope of small groups”, according to the article Collaboration Will Drive the Next Wave of Productivity Gains. Research by Cornerstone On Demand shows 38 percent of workers feel there is not enough collaboration in the workplace. The next wave in business communication and project management is aiming to change that, with a focus on collaboration technology. The reason why businesses are finding value in collaborative tools to complement or replace email is due to the very nature of the format. You must first create the subject or project title, then add the relevant contributors to join the discussion. This allows for a streamlined workflow of processes and decision making without the worry of cluttered inboxes and the mishaps of missing important emails.
Emails Are Outdated
Due to the shifting of the traditional physical workplace to the remote or digital workplace, workers are operating in distributed teams, relying more and more on mobile technology to stay connected and the old fashioned email systems just don’t cut it in terms of speed and information exchange. Employee engagement is now focused on collaboration, and Gartner predicts that by 2017, 25% of companies will lose their market position as a result of “digital business incompetence” and the “lack of holistic response to how consumerization trends change how work is best accomplished.”
A 2013 Avanade survey found that 77% of decision makers are using collaboration technologies, and 82% of businesses that use collaboration tools want to use even more in the future.
If your company is one of the many adopting these collaboration tools, you may already be familiar with applications such as slack, IRC, Yammer (which are great for real time communication) and MS Project or Basecamp (which are great for project management), but for something a little more comprehensive and easy-to-use we recommend you check out Knotable, which can turn an email conversation into a working project with deadlines, voting buttons, and checklists. Check out this demo of Knotable for more information.
For the latest on business communication and productivity trends and what’s hot in email, messaging and workflow, check out this fantastic conference coming to New York in October 2016: Inbox Awesome.