In the last few years, email has become the boogie man of work efficiency. Executives everywhere are struggling to achieve the much coveted inbox zero, some companies are making attempts to stop after-hours emails, and others are trying to completely eradicate email from their organization. What was first hailed as a great communication source turned out to be the nightmare of many knowledge workers. So how did email turn out to be the bad guy?
It’s not surprising when we take a look at all the data on how email impacts team productivity. An email statistics report shows that there are more business emails sent and received daily worldwide (around 100 billion) than consumer emails (around 82 billion).
A 2007 Intel internal survey shows that employees received more messages through email than through any other communication form. Around 30% of them received between 21 and 50 emails daily. Things look even worse for managers – 58% of them received a minimum of 50 emails daily.
To top it all up, research by Basex shows that information overload – an excess of information resulting in workers’ inability to stay focused on tasks – costs the U.S. economy around $900 billion per year.
It’s not just the influx of information that makes email a productivity killer. It’s also the expectation that emails should be replied to as soon as possible. Up to 55% of workers open their emails immediately or shortly after it arrives, no matter how busy they are.
Somehow, email has become an efficiency drainer, when in fact it is a vital tool for business. But email still has the potential to be an amazing communication tool, provided that it is used properly, and that it is surrounded by the right expectations. As David Allen noted in this Harvard Business Review article :
“Email handled well reduces meetings. And meetings handled well reduce emails.”
You can, in fact, use email to improve your team’s efficiency. As a team manager, you want to work on ways to decrease bad practices of email use within your team, and increase the instances when email is used to improve your team’s communication. As always, you should start by setting the example of how to use email correctly.
You should be able to tell what email practices are hurting your team’s efficiency through simple observation. That should be a great start to put into place some best practices that are customized to your team. In the end, it’s about learning, as a team, when to use different communication tools. Here are some places where you can start using email to improve your team’s efficiency.
#1. Don’t use email urgently
Because email is checked and replied to at the user’s convenience, the sender should be respectful of that. Don’t send an email if you need a reply within the next few hours. A phone call or an IM should do when you need a reply right away. Don’t submit your team members to the pressure of having to interrupt their work by replying to emails as soon as possible. Email should empower them to choose the best time to attend to their inbox.
#2. Don’t try make big decisions through email
Big decisions should be left for face to face interaction. Don’t start email threads that lead to perpetual reply-alls and a never-ending back and forth. You will never reach a conclusion about complex issues (or anything that matters) that way. Plus, you will not be able to read valuable body cues that will help you to better manage your team.
#3. Stop reply-all
The reply-all button causes a lot of otherwise preventable email overload. It’s a simple rule: the more email you send, the more email you will receive. Reply-all should only be used if everyone actually needs to hear what you have to say.
Your team will thank you for using EoM, which stands for End of Message. Using it is simple: focus the main message of your email in the subject line, then add EoM at the end of the subject line. No need to write the body of the email. Here’s an example: “Marketing meeting confirmed 02/21/2014 Red Rocket Cafe. EoM.”
This is perfect when you want to bring to the recipient’s attention a quick message that is not urgent, does not require immediate action, or perhaps it requires nothing at all from the receiver.
EoM saves your time, the receiver’s time and guarantees 100% readership.
#5. Keep emails less than 5 sentences
An email practice that really respects team members’ time is keeping emails to less than 5 sentences. This means that your message should focus on one main point, not on 10 points at once. If you feel that you can’t fit what you need to say in 5 sentences, rethink your main point and edit your message.
That being said, don’t use email as IM. Don’t spam your team members’ inboxes with unnecessary less-than-5-sentences emails.
Don’t underestimate the effect of sharing small wins with your team members. Everyone needs a sense progress to keep motivation and productivity going. That’s what Harvard Business School prof Teresa Amabile emphasizes in her book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. She writes: “on the days when people are feeling happiest, proudest, and most motivated, the single most prominent event in those days is making progress in meaningful work.” Don’t hesitate to pass on information that will positively affect the way team members feel about their work.
# 7. Use your email signature to let people know when they can expect a reply from you
Try to let people know how often you check your email so that you can manage their expectations on when they might receive a reply from you. Include this information in your email signature. This will also restore your own sanity, as you won’t feel pressured to check your email a gazillion times daily and reply to emails as soon as possible. You can be as specific (I check email at 9 am and 3 pm) or general (I only check email 2-3 times daily) as you wish. You can also offer an alternative way of reaching you for those who did not read the first point of this list.
What practices do you and your team use to manage email overflow? I’d love to hear your own tips!
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