Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The inefficiency of email

Email has made communication and information transfer quicker and infinitely easier.  However, it has also made the average worker apathetic towards verbal and face-to-face communication.

Today the computer is effectively an extension of the employee; so to change from silent mode to human mode and pick the phone up or set a meeting up can feel disruptive.  Why disturb your perfectly synchronized, rhythmic keyboard-mouse coordination by opening your mouth when a 4 line email will suffice?  Most employees don't mind using email because it saves them from potentially long conversations and arguments on the phone.

The greatest contributor toward verbal apathy though is that people have resorted to email to cover their own behinds.  Furnishing a sent email as proof can end a dispute about whether or not some information or request was sent.  If everything was verbal, a dispute becomes a matter of your word against mine, with no proof to substantiate either side.  Managers thus encourage their staff to email and keep half the company on copy.  That's the practical reality for most employees: email isn't about being more effective, it's about having your bases covered with an audit trail in case a dispute arises.

When you run your own business though it's about effectiveness and getting things done, rather than preventing alibis, denials and shirking.  As a C.E.O. or entrepreneur you have people that report to you based on trust and yes, obligation.  Your spoken word and their acknowledgement thereof is equivalent to a signed contract.  As an employee you typically hold no sway over other departments or any third parties - you're just an employee - so email is used to bolster accountability.

"The quality of business communications has become poorer in recent years as people avoid phone calls and face-to-face meetings, I can only assume, in some misguided quest for efficiency," Virgin founder Richard Branson says. "There is nothing efficient about allowing a small problem to escalate."  He is a strong believer in verbal communication.  Just as well: he has several people reporting to him whose job it is to see his requests carried out.

Efficiency-wise picking up the phone or speaking in person can fix many problems much more quickly than several back and forth electronic messages.  The inefficiency of email however is something you have to live with if you're an employee.  If you're dealing with people that are your staff or trusted partners though then say it, don't type it.

Subscribe by Email