Phil Simon is a recognized technology authority and award-winning author of seven management books. In this month's guest post, he discusses the downfalls of relying on email for business communication.
It’s not hard to find communication failures. On February 18, 2015, Carnegie Mellon University (my alma mater) mistakenly admitted 800 students via (you guessed it) e-mail. On an individual level, we’ve all hit “reply all” by mistake. At a minimum, the result is embarrassment. Worst case scenario: You’re looking for a new job.
I truly believe that many employees have reached a tipping point regarding email. They are simply trying to juggle too many balls at once, and my research in Message Not Received confirmed as much. Employees have never been more overwhelmed. They’re being asked to integrate more content and more messages. They’re checking e-mail on weekends, holidays, and vacation (if they ever take it). They’re constantly on call, barely able to keep their heads above water.
Americans have adopted the web faster than any other technology, leading to today's 24/7 plugged-in world. We're more connected to technology than ever before, checking e-mails around the clock and on vacation.
But don’t take my word for it. The LexisNexis Workplace Productivity Survey reveals the extent of this problem. From the study:
- 51% of all those surveyed in each country say that if the amount of information they receive continues to increase, they will soon reach a “breaking point” at which they will be unable to handle any more. The avalanche of information is also taking a psychological toll on white-collar workers.
- 52% of professionals surveyed report feeling demoralized when they can’t manage all the information that comes their way at work.
The study took place in 2010, but does anyone believe that the problem has not exacerbated? Let me put it differently: Are you able to do everything that you want or need to do while on the clock? Or do you have to shift key priorities because there aren’t enough hours in the day?
What to Do?
Fortunately, there’s a two-fold solution to the mess that is modern business corporations. First, we can embrace simpler language at work. There’s no reason to use terms like “strategic synergies” and other linguistic atrocities. It’s never been more important to be clear precisely because there’s so much noise out there. More than ever, clear, effective communication can serve as a competitive advantage.
But even articulating yourself clearly isn’t enough. We need to wean ourselves from the killer app of the Internet age: e-mail. We need to realize that not every message should be communicated via e-mail. New, truly collaborative tools like HipChat, Smartsheet, and scores of others make it easier than ever to communicate in a more intelligent manner. And let’s not forget that an in-person meeting or phone conversation is often the best way to handle a confusing or difficult situation.
Far too many of us seem to have forgotten that.
About Phil Simon
Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology authority. He is the award-winning author of seven management books, most recently Message Not Received. He consults organizations on matters related to communications, strategy, data, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, NBC, CNBC, Inc. Magazine, BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Fox News, and many other sites.