Many company staff are of the opinion that this popular mode of communication needs to be reviewed and improved, but not banned. They see it more as a matter of dealing with the way email is used rather than the system itself.
Some companies are thinking about doing away with email in favour of new channels of internal communication, such as social networks, and a few have already reached this decision. Could this be the solution, asked Anthony Poncier, Consulting Director in social collaboration strategy at the Lecko consultancy, in a recent column entitled Les réseaux sociaux à la place du mail? (“Social networks instead of email?”). However, according to a study carried out in the United States by The Grossman Group and the LCWA Research Group, our good old email box still has many useful years in front of it - as long as the system is overhauled and used more efficiently. This was the view of 47% of the US company executives, 57% of the middle managers and 35% of the employees who took part in a web-based survey among 1,300 respondents. All groups generally describe their email load as "overwhelming", "excessive" or even "annoying". Even so, more than three-quarters of company staff do not wish to give up this facility. Some 84% of executives, 83% of middle managers and 77% of non-managerial staff agree that email is an “effective and necessary communication tool” – internally as well as externally. They also value it as a means of setting down a record of what has been said, whether for tracing the history of a series of events or simply recording information.
Email itself is not the target of their criticism. It’s the way email is used that the US corporate staff find fault with. Middle management respondents are most convinced of the need to implement formal email policies in their company, as they are the ones who feel they waste the most time, estimating that they waste an average of 24 minutes per day on irrelevant email. This adds up to 100 hours per person per year. Much of this wasted time is due to chains of messages going back and forth, unwarranted use of the ‘reply to all’ and ‘copy’ functions, or emails which are simply unclear. Moreover, 30 - 40% of those surveyed are sure they would be more productive if fewer work-related emails were circulating within the company. These managers report spending 74 minutes per day dealing with emails during working hours, plus a further 28 minutes outside normal working hours.
Are rules the answer?
Middle managers are certainly not the only ones who think this way, but they seem to be the ones most affected. One reason is that many of them look at their messages outside working hours - 79% compared with 47% of the non-managerial employees. This is mainly due to the fact that more of them carry smartphones - 68% as opposed to 34% of the staffers. This can create conflicts in the work-life balance - 30% of middle managers stating this was a problem. Some 29% of this group said they worry about missing a vital piece of information and 21% reported coming under some stress from out-of-hours use of email. So what can be done about it? First and foremost, 55% of the middle managers, plus 40% of non-managers and 61% of the executives polled advocate beefing up email policies and improving usage etiquette. In addition, 20%, 13% and 11% of these groups respectively say emailing ought to be limited outside working hours, with 15%, 11% and 8% respectively also wanting limits on emailing during working hours. However, they do not appear to support the idea of scrapping email entirely, with just 12% of middle managers, 7% of non-management staff and 3% of executives saying that banning email outside normal business hours would be very effective.