Advances in technology, such as email, over the last 20 years have changed the way we all live our lives, and the business environment has been at the forefront of many of those changes.
Few areas have moved so quickly as communications; anyone under the age of 40, whose working life has revolved around mobile phones, emails, webinars and online presence, may find it hard to imagine the days when pagers and faxes were considered cutting edge.
But while the means of communication has improved, our ability to use it effectively – to manage our communications – has not always advanced at the same pace.
From our experience of working with many employers, we understand how valuable good and effective communication is to a successful business and workplace. We often provide our client with bespoke training to help managers and staff generally to communicate better.
Good and effective communication is also a key element to good productivity.
Email is an obvious example of this. The benefits of being able to send significant and important information to one person, or a whole group of people, at the touch of a key or tap on a screen, are massive. Many people find their working day regularly swallowed up with opening, reading and responding to emails that are mostly irrelevant. The latest research suggests that on average, office workers receive at least 200 messages a day and spend about two-and-a-half hours reading and replying to emails.
How can you improve email productivity?
As a starting point to improving communication and productivity here are some top tips to pass on to your staff for managing your emails better:
- Is it really necessary? Do you have to send an email to a colleague or contact? Or could you just as easily call them, or walk round to their desk and talk to them, or chat it through over coffee? It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that an email is often the quickest and simplest option. However, because tone is so difficult, and follow up questions or clarification are often required, what would be just five-minute phone call or a ten-minute coffee chat, can soon become a lengthy email chain. One which may well lead to others being copied in. Speaking of which…
- Don’t use email as a way to avoid difficult face-to-face situations. If there is already an element of conflict or confrontation, email has a habit of fanning the flames rather than smoothing things over. And when tempers flare on email, the outcome is rarely positive.
- It may be good to go – but who to? If you have information to share or a question to ask, make sure your email is going to the right person or people – and only to them. Carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) can sometimes be justified, but more often it’s a way for people who feel possibly unsupported to cover their backs, or to show that they are ‘busy working’. Creating the right office environment is the key to challenging that (and could lead to much greater benefits than just better email communication), but if it’s a practice that’s happening a lot in your office or business, treat it as a symptom and address the underlying causes. And while you’re thinking about who an email is for, remember that you should never send out anything in an email which could cause problems if thoughtlessly forwarded by the recipient. It happens (and you may even have been guilty of it yourself), so check before you send.
- Get to the point. While everyone has a unique email style, the general principle of keeping it short and sweet, with the important information in the first line, is one that is worth adhering to. If the email does need to be a bit longer, then break the salient points up into paragraphs, or even a bulleted list. But if it gets to more than four or five paragraphs or bullets, it probably requires a face-to-face conversation. And don’t leave requests for help or information, or an invitation or important instruction, to the last line of the email – just in case your recipient doesn’t read right to the end.
- Use some email discipline. Many people often feel they are drowning in emails, and while it’s not always the case, it’s still worth using some discipline to decide when you want to receive and send your emails. So try setting yourself two email windows in the day – one in the morning, one in the afternoon – and using that time to focus solely on emails. Don’t check them at any other time. You can even add a line to your email signature letting people know that, and suggesting they call you if they need a more immediate response. In between those times, turn off pop-ups and notifications, and get on with the day job.
- Read and reply. Many of us are guilty of opening and reading an email, but then not responding straight away, and having to read the email all over again when we come back to it. But most emails can be dealt with quickly the first time. And even if you can’t immediately send back all the information someone wants or needs, still send back a short response letting them know you’ve received their request and are dealing with it. Those few seconds can generate a lot of goodwill when it comes to future communications.
Everyone understands the potential communications advantages that email brings, but most of us could benefit from tightening up our email management – and for some, it could save several hours every week.
This post was written by Anna Harvey, partner at Price Bailey Legal Services.
We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.