Over the holidays, you probably slept in, watched a few holiday specials, and shut down the corporate email for a few days. After enjoying sleeping in and far too many baked goods, chances are you faced a terrifying reality upon your return: an inbox overflowing with messages. Armed with only the delete function and immense patience, you sifted through the waves of messages, triaging emails into “important,” “read it if I get to it”, and “automatic delete.”
Sound familiar? According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, the average employee spends 650 hours per year on emails, and only 27% of that email is relevant. Employees waste 474 hours per year, or 20 days, filtering through and reading unnecessary emails. Additionally, they lose sight of the most important communication as all emails receive the same level of importance (no, the “important” flag in Gmail doesn’t help). With email overload, employees not only lose time that would be better spent on more important parts of their business, but they decrease overall productivity and communication effectiveness.
So what is to be done? You could go the way of Atos, an international IT services firm which outright banned corporate email. Or you could try and implement some rules for corporate email like Ferrari, who attempted to curb email inefficiency by installing an application to block messages with more than three recipients. These strategies are misguided and ineffective. It’s not fair to blame email because it is abused by many. Email as a medium can be highly effective for specific situations. Rather than shunning email, companies can cut down on unnecessary internal email by deploying a few strategies.
1. Stop abusing the ‘cc and “Reply All” – Target your communication. Before you click send, ask yourself, “Does the recipient need this email?” While it is a seemingly basic tenant of email etiquette, don’t be the “Reply all” or “’cc” troll. Determine whether this email is pertinent to an employee’s business, or whether it’s “nice to have.” For a quick solution for the “nice to have”, skip down to #3.
2. Quit playing attachment ping pong – Sending around v1, v2, v3, etc. is not the best way to get feedback or share drafts. Try one of the many free file-sharing programs to maintain the most up-to-date documents, track versioning, and quit worrying about the size limits of your attachments in email.
3. Make information public – Are you sending an email that would be better served as public information? Chances are if you have a question, other employees have the same question. Post your message in an internal public place like an enterprise social network or public forum. This way, employees aren’t being alerted or emailed about irrelevant information, but the same requests aren’t being made over and over again.
4. Choose the best medium – If the content of the email doesn’t make sense without tone or requires a 10 paragraph novel, ditch the message and schedule a quick call instead. This ensures that the recipient hears the message you intended, not the interpretation of a misdirected or confusing email which often results in additional back-and-forth.
5. Start at the top – If you truly want less emails, send fewer emails. The Harvard Business Review analyzed a company that trained upper management to deliberately reduce their email to employees by not forwarding messages unless strictly necessary, limiting recipients, and forgoing email for other more effective methods of communication. Executives reduced email by 54%, and astonishingly the rest of the company’s email rates dropped by 64%. Ultimately, send fewer to get fewer.