Could you give up email?

The Harvard Business Review ‘Management Tip of the Day’ is always a good read – and this morning’s missive certainly made me sit up and take notice. “Give up email altogether,” trumpeted the headline. “Yes that’s right, stop checking your email. Take your email address off your business card and website and encourage anyone who needs to reach you to pick up the phone”.

Now speaking as someone who is regularly buried under a deluge of (mostly irrelevant) emails, I have it say it was a rather attractive, if somewhat radical, proposition.Just imagine a day when you could get straight down to work without having to plough through an over-flowing in-box.

No more pompous ‘whole company ‘ pronouncements or messages where someone has hit ‘reply to all’ in an attempt to demonstrate how hard they really are working. No need to waste precious time giving people information they could find out for themselves if only they could be bothered. An end to junk mail and the flood of e-newsletters you don’t remember subscribing to (although I did stop briefly to wonder how the people at HBR would reach me and their thousands of other readers if we all actually took their advice).

There is, however, a serious message behind this rather extreme suggestion. Email does of course have its place – but there’s no doubt that if allowed to rampage unchecked, it does get in the way of us actually getting anything done. Part of the problem is that it’s the communication mechanism most of us automatically revert to when we have something to say – often without giving proper thought to whether it’s really the right way to achieve our goal or get the message across.

So in a world without email (or at least without quite so much of it) which alternative communication practices could you employ to good effect?

Pick up the phone

Yes, really. We spend so much time these days emailing/texting/instant messaging that we seem to have almost become frightened of speaking to people. At a conference I was at last week, one of the speakers suggested that the simple act of picking up the phone and talking to three people every day could make a massive difference to your business. It’s a great way to remind people you exist, nudge them towards an order or a decision or get a quick answer to a question that could otherwise fester for months in someone’s in-box. I’ve actually tried it this week and I have to say that thanks are due to Steve Clarke of Eureka Sales, because even outside of a sales context, it really does work. So who’s on your list to phone today?

Text and Instant Messaging

Text is best for when you want to keep it short and sweet. ‘Have you got time for a quick catch up this afternoon?’ ‘, ‘When will you be able to look at the report?’ – and other similar questions that just serve to keep the wheels turning and move things along. It’s a communication mechanism that also works well with really busy people who don’t have time to read through acres of ‘stuff’. I have one colleague who rarely answers an email but will respond almost instantly to a quick text. The key is to find out who in your team or wider network responds well to text or instant messaging – and tailor the way you communicate with them accordingly.

Internal social platforms

A growing number of companies are switching on to the fact that internal social networks have a real role to play in helping their people work together more efficiently. These internal platforms (like the one that comes as an integral part of Cezanne OnDemand’s HR software solution) provide people with a virtual space in which to collaborate and share ideas and information. They can help speed up progress on projects and make it easier for employees to find the right people to answer their question. They also help to make brainstorming a continuous process that everyone can join in with – rather than an occasional event which is open to only a chosen few.

Skype

We’ve all had instances where you’re trying to come to a conclusion on an issue and emails are flying back and forth and everything is just going round and round in circles. In an ideal world, you’d get people round the table to thrash it out. But when that’s not possible, Skype (or similar ‘conference call’ tools) can be an excellent alternative. Everyone gets an opportunity to have their say, there’s less chance of someone taking umbrage because the tone of an email gave the wrong impression and it’s much easier to come to an agreement and get the matter settled once and for all.

Blog it!

If you need to communicate with a large number of people about your work, a blog can be a really good way to keep everyone up-to-date. It’s less formal than an email, you can make it more visually appealing and if you get the tone right, you can use it as an opportunity to really engage with people and get them enthusiastic about what you’re doing. It’s a great way to build a community around you and your business and get feedback on your work as well as new ideas to inform your practice and thinking.

What do you think? Is email over-used in your business or would you find it impossible to live without it?

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