The Problem with Business Communications
Part I of III
How do you spend your time at work?
Odds are that you are relying far too much on e-mail on the job, but don’t take my word for it. In 2012, McKinsey released a scathing report on how inefficiently we currently spend our time at work. “The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies” provides a fascinating window into our professional lives:
And McKinsey is hardly alone in pointing out just much of our time is spent—and, I’d argue, wasted—in our inboxes. Consider the Radicati Group’s E-mail Statistics Report, 2013–2017. Among the study’s most interesting findings:
- E-mail remains the go-to form of business communication. In 2013, business e-mail accounts totalled 929 million. The number of mailboxes is expected to grow annually at a rate of 5 percent over the next four years, reaching over 1.1 billion by the end of 2017.
- More than 100 billion business e-mails were sent in 2013 every day. That number is expected to exceed 130 billion by 2017.
- The average employee receives roughly 120 to 150 e-mails per day, a number that’s growing by 15 percent annually. (This means that, at this rate, you’ll receive twice as many messages in about 4.5 years.)
Brass tacks: The numbers are staggering, but the explanation is fairly straightforward. There’s a simple reason that most of us are drowning in our inboxes. As also seen in Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It by Phil Simon, we use e-mail for just about everything.
E-Mail: The Swiss Army Knife of Business Communications
How do you use e-mail?
If you are like most people, you probably use e-mail for several purposes, including:
- one-to-one communications
- one-to-many communications such as announcements
- project management
- task management and reminders
- instant messages or “chatting”
- document storage
- information search and retrieval
This is akin to using your 7-iron for putting, driving, and getting out of the sand.
The current state of affairs in business communication is nothing short of madness. Think of it this way: Would you write a report or prepare an important presentation in Microsoft Excel? Would you put together sophisticated financial models in Word?
The paradox in the consumer world is astounding. We can query tens of trillions of webpages in less than a second with Google and usually find exactly what we want. Yet we often cannot find necessary answers, documents, expertise, and help in inboxes with tens of thousands of messages.
Simon Says: Rid Yourself of the “E-Mail as a Default” Mind-Set
How we’re working isn’t working—and hasn’t for a long time now. Different types of projects and goals require different tools—and this is especially true since it’s not 1998. These days, exceptionally powerful collaboration and communication tools exist.
Put differently, the answer to E-Mail Hell is human, not technological. Despite the existence of far superior collaboration tools, most people continue to keep the vast majority of valuable questions, ideas, decisions, and institutional knowledge in discrete inboxes—not in searchable, open repositories. Is it any wonder that most employees are overloaded with information?
What say you?
In our next post, we will discuss some of the ways to break old and wholly inefficient patterns caused by our overuse of e-mail.