There are numerous articles on the misuse of email (including this post where we talk about ways to onboard Gen Y workers), but one of the biggest mistakes is email becomes the general all-purpose tool for all kinds of inappropriate collaboration methods for your team. While email is great for point-to-point communications, it falls down when it comes to sharing and editing spreadsheets and documents, scheduling meetings, and tracking projects -- all things that it can be forced into doing. Most of us get far too much email, and if we can move a task from generating a series of messages to some other mechanism, we can save gobs of time and be more effective at collaborating.
See if you can spot some of these kinds of messages that might have crossed your inbox recently:
- Sending a message that is really intended for one recipient but including everyone in the "to:" field.
- Scheduling a common meeting time with at least two other people.
- Co-editing a Word document or PowerPoint slidedeck by emailing it as a series of attachments.
- Choosing between two or more paths for a particular project.
- Notifying you about the start time of some event in the near future, such as the start of a conference call.
- Notifying you about where you have to be for an appointment in the near future.
- Notifying you about your own workflow of particular tasks or "to-dos."
- Assembling a "knowledge base" or a series of "frequently asked questions" via email messages.
- Finding out if someone is in their office or available to take a phone call from a client.
Why are all these bad email use cases? Several reasons:
- While email is quick, it isn't instantaneous and there could be delays as your messages move around the Internet and the globe. If you have something time-critical, email shouldn't be your first choice. Look at instant messaging or text chatting tools. These tools are also useful for "presence aware" purposes, if deployed enterprise-wide.
- Group messages can be deadly. People still think "reply all" is a valid option. Use a list server or mailing list when there are more than four recipients of your messages.
- Email protocols don't guarantee receipt, or even if the recipient has read the message. You should pick something else if you want a record that someone got your message (other than sending a confirmation message back to you).
- Email is a miserable mechanism for real-time document or spreadsheet editing and collaboration. There are dozens of tools, starting with Google Docs and Dropbox and moving on to QuickBase and others that are far better, faster, and easier to use.
- Scheduling a meeting via a series of emails is difficult: it can take dozens of messages and days to converge on a common time. Again, there are better tools that can do this (Doodle, SetMeeting and Calendly are three).
- Task management is better left to specialized tools. Some of these include Glip, GetFlow, Trello, Tallyfy and QuickBase -- all can do better than exchanging a series of emails.
- Finally, email is also sub-par for making quick decisions. As the decision maker, have you heard from all interested parties? Can you reconcile when party A conflicts with party B about one aspect, and party C about another? See the real-time editing and task management issues above.
So broaden your horizons, look beyond the simple email message and try out one of these tools the next time you find yourself about to be buried with emails. Your team might thank you, once they get over trying something new.