I use email all day every day. I send hundreds of emails a week. It is a critical part of our business and we couldn’t exist without it.
So why do I hate it? I can’t count all the ways, but in summary I think it is because it has turned from a communication tool into a CYA (cover your a**) tool, an “avoid real interaction” tool, an “I’m too busy to function.” tool, and an excuse that makes us feel like we are working, when sometimes we are just avoiding real work.
You all know what I mean. We’ve all had a boss that emails us 10 times a day, when he or she is less than 300 feet away.
We’ve also had a colleague who CC’s everyone in the organization when something is bad that can be blamed on someone else, or when something is good they can take credit for.
But, do they CC everyone in the organization when they are apologizing to you for throwing you under the bus, or on the rare occasion they’re admitting they were wrong? No.
Email Context is Key
In email context can often be lost, so the meaning of the message can be taken negatively.
I used to say to my now ex-wife “If I say something, and it can be taken two ways and one of them gets me in trouble, I OBVIOUSLY meant the other one” (that never worked by the way), but in email the opposite sentiment is often true.
“If you can take it wrong, please do and overreact and pull as many people into the argument as possible.” I can’t count the number of times email wars have broken out because a quickly typed email was taken completely out of context and then started a blasting diatribe that everyone needs to be copied on.
We have all dealt with this and I am sure you all know what I am talking about.
So why do I hate email less these days? Part of it is convincing colleagues and employees that I don’t respond well to aggressive email exchanges.
Part of it is having a policy about the use of email and how we can effectively use it.
But the primary improvement comes from the technology of Unified or Universal Communication. We instituted a policy last year with guidelines as we saw our company expanding and felt the need to streamline communications. With a small company the overzealous CC people can be ignored, but as you grow this can mean mammoth increases in your inbox.
What is Universal Communication?
During the Keynote Presentation at the #Lync Conference held in Las Vegas the Skype and Lync General Manager Giovanni Mezgec defines “universal communications.” It’s a shift from the old unified communications story, which focused on hardware and software. Instead, universal communications is about people.
Most businesses have adopted unified communications in some form. They bought the video conferencing system and maybe the phone system that allows your voicemail messages to be sent as email or text message. But what was missing from that picture was the user. How is the user using the technology? Does it feel unified to them? Wikipedia refers to this as a technology silo.
What Factors Lead to This Improvement?
Microsoft has led the charge in this change because they have put the user at the center of the communication. My phone is seamlessly integrated with my email, as well as Microsoft Office applications like Excel and Word as well as Skype. I can see presence for the user I want to communicate with and place a call or instant message them based on real-time availability. I can also decide to add video and screen share at the click of a button. These advances have let to an improvement in communication and allowed me to use and hate email less.
• Factor 1 – Empathy. Because I see an onscreen picture of the people I communicate most often, I am less likely to blast and be critical.
• Factor 2 – Fewer Emails. Presence lets me see they are available to talk, and I am much more likely to Instant Message them or call them if they are available.
• Factor 3 – Instant Feedback. With IM we get immediate feedback and have a better chance to sense if something has been taken out of context. While IM is not perfect it has less shelf life and is often not used as a public record CYA tool but instead is used to clarify a communication.
• Factor 4 – Face to Face. Video is the real answer – because I can click a contacts face and actually talk to them I get all the nuances of communication and get the result I want – actual communication. Email is the record and to-do list, just a summary of a real conversation.
So lessons learned…
1. Implement an email policy that explains how you and your company communicate. There are lots of examples on the web – or email me and I’ll send you ours.
2. Create a folder called “emails I don’t send” and when you type that nasty or emotional or wonderfully sarcastic witty email, file it in that folder because you will be thrilled later that you didn’t send it.
3. Implement a UC platform that lets you have real, robust, complete interactions with your customers, employees and colleagues. I have recently attended the Microsoft Lync show and Cisco Live and both companies really have the user in mind when it comes to Universal Communications.
Universal Communication had made my life easier and given me a more robust communication experience. I get to write and read less email because I am able to connect with my team, customers and partners in new and better ways. I use presence and IM to ask quick questions and use video calls for one-on-one meetings, daily calls and demos.
Do you have people in your office who abuse email? Do you have an email policy or best practices?
What form of communication do you have? Is it Universal with the user in mind or do you have technology silos?