US computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the first email back in 1971. The World Wide Web wasn’t invented until 18 years later, when CERN computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee came up with a solution sharing information on different computers.
While email began as a simple communication tool, it’s had almost 45 years to evolve. Today it is also widely used as an information and storage platform. Instead of deleting an email after it is read, for example, most people archive or file it away for later reference.
This can be a good thing. Email trails keep people accountable, and information is documented that would otherwise be lost.
The downside is that it can also lead to information overload. If your inbox has over 100 unread emails, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
So here are three of the most common corporate email culprits:
- Document collaboration
How many of these emails are sitting in your inbox right now? You know the type, the email sent to all marketing and IT staff requesting feedback on the new public website, or the draft tender response forwarded to the entire sales team for review.
Each person sends their feedback in a separate email, or as tracked changes in an attached document. The result? Multiple emails that reference the same document, but with no easy way to track or manage feedback
- Internal process information and helpdesk requests
These emails relate to how certain tasks need to be performed. If you’ve ever emailed your boss to find out how to submit a document for approval, or contacted the office manager about sending a leave application, you’ve sent an internal process information email.
Helpdesk requests are similar. How do I send a package to the Sydney office? What do I need to do to connect remotely to the CRM?
Internal process information and helpdesk request emails are usually easy to answer, but answering the same questions repeatedly can be time consuming.
- Knowledge sharing
“Hi finance department, I would like to salary package my car. Can someone please tell me where to find the paperwork?” An email to an entire department is one way to find the information you need. Unfortunately, it’s also likely to irritate many recipients.
The case against keeping information locked up in emails
While you can rely on email as your sole knowledge management platform, it isn’t always a good idea. The disadvantages include:
Even if your inbox is empty on a Monday morning, it doesn’t take much to get swamped with hundreds of emails by mid-week. This is particularly true if you receive multiple document collaboration emails, and recipients hit “reply all” instead of responding directly to the sender. Reading, replying and actioning these emails can take hours.
Difficult to search
Emails are only a valuable information source for those included on the original email trail. As people leave and join your organisation, details about client projects and processes are lost. This means the same questions are re-asked and re-answered time and time again.
When your team conducts all of its conversations by email, it’s difficult for other teams or departments to benefit from your knowledge. They can’t contribute to conversations, and they can’t see what you’re working on. This lack of transparency can stifle innovation and prevent people from working collaboratively.
What’s the solution?
To address the issues outlined above, organisations need a more diverse information ecosystem. Email is still a valuable platform, but it should be supplemented with collaboration tools including:
With Skype for Business, you can text, call or video message team members in real-time. A series of back-and-forth emails can be reduced to a five-minute conversation or instant message chat.
Skype for Business also integrates with calendars, which makes it easy to identify when others are busy. You can use time more efficiently, rather than waiting for an email response from someone who is in meetings all afternoon.
SharePoint or other knowledge-sharing platforms
We love SharePoint because it provides a range of collaborative features like document management, company-specific wikis, blogs and business process automation.
Documents and information are stored in a fully searchable platform that allows users to contribute information and discover relevant content more efficiently.
This means teams can collaborate on documents without sending dozens of emails. It also means organisations can upload information about how to submit leave requests, send a package to Sydney or get document approval, to avoid employees answering the same questions over and over again.