In 2014, various stories reported the steps taken in European countries to ensure that employees were not put under unnecessary stresses by receiving email communications at antisocial times of day. Since then, it may seem that all has gone quiet on the office email front. But that’s not so.
With a rising number of individuals, companies and governments agreeing that office email, plus the 24-hour connectivity allowed by mobile technology, can result in an unhealthy cocktail, we have to ask the question: how long can office email survive?
See also: How Out of Hours Email Stresses us Out
What’s so wrong with office email, anyway?
Office email gets a bad rap, being blamed for causing stress, damaging productivity, and even contributing to gender inequality by making it difficult for working parents to keep up with the demands of a fundamentally selfish communication tool.
Don’t you dread the ’FYI’ messages that pop up incessantly, and the long slog through the email mountain that grows during any holiday (or even short step out of the office)?
Email is selfish because of its simplicity – which encourages us to send messages without thinking about the necessity of the contact. We simply hit send, or even worse, the forward or copy button, and suddenly the matter in hand is no longer our problem.
And the impact that email can have on productivity is huge. Research has found that people react to incoming email with the same speed that they might a phone call with 70 percent of office emails viewed within 6 seconds. We are so used to being constantly connected that we rush to reply as though there was someone waiting impatiently for our immediate attention. The time it takes to get back to business after such a distraction has been measured at 64 seconds, which quickly mounts up when you consider the average number of times we check our phones for email per day.
Will new technology kill office email?
One of the reasons it has felt impossible that office email could be replaced has – until recently – been a lack of credible alternatives. Although it’s not been that long, objectively, since email took over from the phone, fax and franking machine, it has changed office communication so much that the office is almost inconceivable without it. Peering into an office building from the 1980s can feel like looking back a century, as the environment (not to mention the types of work done) have changed so rapidly.
But there’s an ever increasing number of alternatives appearing that may well be the death knell for email communications at work. As a freelancer, I work with a number of different companies, and already have two clients who have all but ditched the email in favor of chat apps for everyday use. Try Fleep or Slack for easy and intuitive communication that keeps message threads in one place and means that you control the settings to enable or disable message notifications and synchronize all devices easily. You can search within message streams to find the details you want, highlight posts to keep available at all times, and include attachments (and emoticons for when you just can’t say it with words).
If you need to thrash out something with your team, don’t start a mass email chain, but use Google+ Hangouts or AnyMeeting to share screens and talk instead of playing email ping pong. And there’s always Skype – it’s been on the scene for over a decade, so there’s no excuse for dropping an email when you could just pick up the phone for free.
Add to this the multitude of ways to share and collaborate on documents, from Google Docs to Evernote which now has a chat feature meaning that you can talk at the same time as working together on a document with colleagues who could be anywhere in the world, and you can see the appeal of moving away from email altogether.
See also: Research Reveals The Worst Email Sins
With a wide and increasing range of viable alternatives, along with a degree of pressure from governments and employees alike, it feels like that the move away from email as a main office communication tool will continue to gain momentum. Millennial workers are happy to be connected, but they also value balance between life and work highly, which is sure to mean some changes and concessions to office email communications to allow ongoing flexibility of communication without the feeling of being chained to the office 24 hours a day.
If your office is yet to make the leap, perhaps it’s worth introducing your team to some alternatives and removing some of the more common email faux-pas in the process.