— 12 min read

The invention of email has definitely been one of the turning points in the way we handle communication in the workplace.

Who do we owe the credit for? We should say thanks to Shiva Ayyadurai. He holds the first copyright for “EMAIL” — a system he began building in 1978 at just 14 years of age.

Although email has been proven to be a good method for quick communications, it sets great barriers to team collaboration. Decades later from its invention, it has stopped being an efficient way for everyday collaboration.

Why?

In her Huffington Post article, Kate Bratskeir explains it so well. You see, email is like a game of Tetris. At first, you start playing it with a smile on your face and a goal to clear your inbox. Even if you manage to 0 out your inbox, the minute you turn away or go to sleep, you get 100 new emails waiting for you.

Some of it might need your immediate attention, some provide great knowledge. Most of it is unavoidably pointless or spam. As a result your mornings go wasted. Each time you take one step forward towards an inbox-zero, you also take two steps back.

Email has even forced itself into our homes. You probably manage emails when you get home at night. It"s often the first thing you check in the morning when you wake up. Just to keep your head above water.

The sooner you accept that it's a losing battle, the sooner you can start making time for the work that really matters.

To put this game of Tetris into figures, we can say that the average office worker receives 110 messages a day and spends 28% of his time handling email. This means employees spend 13 hours per workweek reading and answering emails.

Taking a professional who earns around $75,000 a year, this costs a company $20,990 per worker per year. Somewhere in between these coffee & lunch breaks and emailing, employees are required to do their job. A job that actually produces valuable output for the company.

Email might not be the most effective means of communication in the workplace, but it is surely still the preferred one. After all, email is a social network that's three times the size of Facebook. I think it's safe to say that nearly everyone with internet access has an email account.

Therefore, banning email is by no means an easy task. You'll always encounter resistance, no matter how noble the plan itself might be. In the end, you'll need to find the best methods for efficient collaboration and communication in the workplace. Here's why I think email isn't the best choice:

Why email is terrible for collaboration & communication in the workplace?

1. It wastes a lot of time

The average corporate user spends ¼ of the workday answering and sending emails.

Nearly 1500 hours a year is spent on writing emails, searching for information and attempting to "collaborate" internally. Actually, we spend more time dealing with email than collaborating and communicating with our co-workers. Using more social technologies in the workplace could reduce email use by 25%.

It has been estimated that from the email you receive:

  • 50% can be deleted or filed
  • 30% can be delegated of completed in less than two minutes
  • 20% can be deferred to your Task List or Calendar to complete later

Keeping this in mind, you actually have 4 options with every email you receive:

  • Delete it
  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it

2. Group conversations tend to grow out of hand

Did you know? Atos removed email from its 74,000+ team and improved productivity immediately.

When Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos, estimated that a mere 10% of his workers’ emails were actually useful and productive, he instituted a zero-email policy.

Killing email has a great potential to bring about positive changes. Digging through inbox to come to an understanding who has said what is unproductive. Everyone should just stop responding to emails with an unnecessary “thanks” or “I got it”.

We expect and are expected to respond to emails within a matter of hours. All while completing the non-email related tasks – you know, the important tasks our jobs require of us. No wonder companies with effective communication practices enjoy 47% higher total return to shareholders. Once again, social technologies provide the opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction by 20%.

3. It kills valuable tacit knowledge

For every 10 minutes we spend on our actual job, we spend 7 minutes on email.

In its nature, tacit knowledge is already extremely difficult to transfer from one team-member to another. In email threads, this valuable knowledge gets buried deeper and deeper every minute of every day. The more time we spend on email the less time we have to contribute in a meaningful way.

4. It provides no overview

Checking email is the most popular activity on smartphone. 78% of people do it regularly on mobile phones.

You allocate a lot of time to email. Expect to get answers fast. Still, it fails to give an overview of what needs to be done and who is responsible for what. The information might be somewhere, hiding inside those long email threads and among the thousands of messages. Yet, more often than necessary the information gets lost, either lost in translation or just lost between different filters.

Use the phone for calling if an emergency strikes. Don't expect people to be sitting in their inboxes every minute of every day. When there's an emergency – call. When there's a task to be delegated – use better methods that give a better overview.

5. It destroys focus

On average, employees check their email 36 times. It takes 16 minutes to refocus after handling an incoming email.

As mentioned before, we are expected and expect ourselves to get answers quickly via email. That's kind of weird, because what were the phones invented for? What we don't often realize is that switching between email and our actual task at hand damages our ability to focus.

A 2012 study from Prof. Mark and several colleagues found that workers who were cut off from their email focused for longer periods of time, switching screens less frequently, and were less stressed, as measured by heart-rate monitors. We live in a world of constant notifications, keeping us from reaching greater potential.

6. It lacks in transparency

In its nature, emails are private. They are between the sender and the receiver. While it might be a great method for dealing with discrete issues, it's definitely a barrier in team collaboration. Knowledge, that is transferred between two parties will stay only between these parties. Over time this will restrict others from being able to benefit from this knowledge transfer.

7. It brings confusion

Have you ever come to a conclusion that it actually takes longer to process an email than it does to write one. Thanks to all the CC’s and BCC’s, information gets confusing quickly. Sometimes, lost altogether. We should stop using the “reply all” button except when critically necessary.

Ever made an awkward, downright embarrassing reply-all mistake? Don't worry, we all have. But this also means you most certainly are aware of the downsides of an email. As a matter of fact, Nielsen management, has come up with a brilliant solution. They got rid of the reply-all button from its internal email to make employees more mindful about who they include on a message.

In this light, it's easy to understand why Y Combinator’s Paul Graham calls replacing an email a “frighteningly ambitious startup idea.” But why shouldn't you replace it? There are so many countless problems baked into it.

8. It’s anti-social

The last but certainly not the least is the simple fact that email isn't social. Collaboration processes, on the other hand, demand more flexible and social ways to communicate with each other. 25% to 30% of time spent on email could be saved if the main channel for collaboration is moved over to a social platform.

I'm not trying to say that email is all bad. It fulfills its purpose as a way for quick contact. But if you're looking for a solution that saves time and makes the collaboration process more transparent, you should choose a social platform. But keep in mind that simply implementing a social tool doesn't do the trick. These tools need to be accompanied by management change and commitment.

If you're looking for a quick recommendation on which social platform to choose, we would definitely advise you to give Weekdone a try. It's simple, yet efficient internal communication platform for teams and weekly progress reports for managers.

Email Is Terrible for Team Collaboration