By Alec Milton, Managing Director, Oasys Software
It is strange to think ‘electronic mail’ has been around since the 1960’s. Growing through government IT networks in the US initially, it wasn’t until the arrival of the internet and most importantly, the World Wide Web in 1989 that use really took off.
The term ‘email’ was coined in 1993 and today, nearly everyone uses email or comes into contact with it during their day, so why has there been a number of news items on ‘the death of email’ over the past few years?
Indeed, the rumours abound since the arrival of twitter and the rise of the Smartphone. In 2010, for the first time, manufacturers shipped more smartphones than PCs and analysts said that people would switch off email in favour of more flexible messaging systems, like BlackBerry Messenger, it was only a matter of time…
However, we’d had Instant Messaging since the 1990’s so why would it change things all of a sudden? In recent times WhatsApp, bought by Facebook for $19bn in 2014 has become a quick way to message groups and send picture messages and files using data allowances that regular messaging simply cannot handle. The service now claims 800m monthly users (although not everyone is a fan).
Email the ‘time vampire’
It is the issues with email that are precisely why it is unlikely to go anywhere for a long time. Employees are swamped with email, analysts Radicati Group claim, on average, business email users sent and received over 120 emails per day in 2015. By 2018, Radicati believes this could have swelled to 140. The sheer volume alone shows how important a communications tool email is.
Still, given that a lot of these emails could be about replacing the milk in the fridge or being sure to wash your dishes after lunch, the big issue is one of management. How do you make sure that your vital information is not lost under a dearth of offers to become a multi-millionaire by simply sharing your bank details with someone you have never met?
The British Psychological Society were warned recently that email was “damaging productivity” and in 2012 analysts McKinsey estimated reviewing emails and replying took a day of time per employee, per week for those in creative industries especially. That’s an entire day lost to managing information and communication or around £2.3bn of economic activity according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
The thing is, you don’t need to keep all your emails in your inbox! In fact, best practise would be to not do this. What if you are off on holiday? What if a colleague leaves? How can you make sure that other people can still get access to vital information stored within that system?
Managing information is managing productivity
Centrally storing messages improves collaboration. It doesn’t open up your emails to everyone and their dog, you can still set rules, but it does mean that your co-workers can still access critical information in your absence (or likewise, you can do the same if someone else is away).
Emails stored in this way are searchable too, not in the rudimentary way an inbox search takes place but with a more dedicated focus. There is no need to scroll through a never ending list of results; emails are filed, archived and logged so searches are infinitely more powerful, providing the right results from locations containing email populated by, potentially, large numbers of people without all the hassle and allowing workers to get on with the job in hand.
Once you understand how and when conversations are happening you can streamline the process. Are staff clear about lines of enquiry? Is management quickly in the loop regarding any issues?
Could you find that email?
I am sure many people reading this have, at some point, been told they needed to clear items out of their inbox to reduce its size. Attachments are a large part of this. If one team member sends an attachment of 5mb to two colleagues, that is 15mb of data storage being used immediately. These emails are, in essence all exactly the same, keeping one copy not three, leads to a dramatic reduction in storage space and provides faster, more efficient searching.
By sharing folders, even if a team member isn’t copied in to the original email, the file will still show up when they search on the subject. This can eliminate the need of forwarding multiple messages, with potentially large attachments to numerous co-workers who may, or may not have already seen the email.
Instant Messaging systems and WhatsApp may prove useful in the right situation, after all sometimes a call is exactly what is needed and it would be wrong not to simply pick up the phone, but messengers run the risk of exactly the same issues as email with too much unsearchable material being sent to a user at any moment.
There is no sign at the moment that people will stop using emails, all we need to do is manage them better and use the analysis and tools at our disposal to work smarter and more efficiently.