When email first came on the scene as a communication technique, it was praised. The ability to send a nearly instantaneous message to a coworker was truly game changing. While the speed of email delivery has not changed, its perception as a useful communication tool has. Aside from Holmes, other business leaders have taken a stance against email. In fact, CEO of Atos Thierry Breton created a “zero email initiative,” discouraging his employees from sending or receiving business emails in 2011. By the end of 2013, Atos employees had less than an average of 40 emails per day, a 60% decrease from 2011. Prior to the initiative, 73% of Atos employees said they spent a fourth of their day reading and responding to emails. Additionally, Volkswagen recently stopped sending work emails to employees outside work hours.
“Email is familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s easy to use. But it might just be the biggest killer of time and productivity in the office today.”
- Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite
The numerous campaigns against email don’t stem from a negative change in email. It’s simply that email is no longer the best way to communicate, and it’s taking up time. According to a 2014 study by The Radicati Group, the average employee send and receives an average of 121 emails a day. Employees often come to an impasse with email- they need to communicate the information and data they put into email, but want to decrease time in their inbox. With a 79% increase in remote and field workers in the US between 2005 and 2012, effective communication is becoming more and more important. Cloud-based software solutions offer communication techniques that allow for all necessary correspondence with a significantly more efficient timeframe. Here are a few techniques software can offer as alternatives to email:
1. Project Specific Communication
One major problem with email is its unfocused nature. Email inboxes are a mixed virtual pile of advertisements, attachments, edits, and tasks. Imagine sending a field rep an email asking about the amount of coffee on an order from two days ago. First, they would have to become aware of the email, in the sea of other messages. Once they opened it, they would need to remember the specific project you were referring to. On average, it takes 2.5 days for an email to receive a response. If the field rep doesn’t remember what project you were referencing and responds asking you to clarify, the email stream is now three messages long without any answers.
Cloud-based software solutions offer communication features which allow managers to comment directly on projects in the field. The back office can send instant messages to field reps, with a project icon attached, allowing the rep to get a text-style message on their mobile phone with the project information attached. This communication is superior to email for two reasons: it’s fast and focused. According to research by International Business Machines Corporation, the average response time to an IM is between twelve seconds and eight minutes. Additionally, the project information pops up and goes away with the touch of a finger on a mobile phone, rather than an email attachment which you often have to download or open in a new tab. This focused and efficient technique can significantly cut down the time you and your reps spend on communication.
2. Visual Communication
A picture is worth a thousand words. Often a situation arises in the field that reps find difficult to explain with words. For example, a field rep might be comparing competing brands at a retail location. Even if the rep can remember what it looked like in his head and write it in an email, it would be difficult for the back office to picture his description. Dr. Lynell Burmark, a Ph.D. Associate at the Thornburg Center for Professional Development explains "...unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear.”
Rather than write a text-filled email describing what was seen in person, a rep could use software that allows him to capture images in the field with a mobile phone or tablet. By presenting a visual to the back office, they can see exactly what the rep saw. These pictures can be instantly seen and analyzed by utilizing the real-time messaging that many Cloud-based softwares offer, instead of getting lost in a pile of emails. In many systems, just like comments and questions, images can be added to the communication stream on a project.
3. Limiting vs. Eliminating
The idea of eliminating email in business all together is not realistic. When Atos began their “zero email initiative” in 2011, the idea was to be email-free by the end of 2013. While the number of emails Atos employees have each day have significantly dropped, they are still not completely free of email. CEO of Jive Software Tony Zingale believes email will be cut in half over the next five years, but also believes that it will still be present in some capacity.
So while it may seem impossible to completely leave email behind, the communication techniques offered by Cloud-based software can serve as alternatives to email, eliminating issues of timeliness and focus. Limiting the time your team spends in the inbox and replacing it with fast and focused communication will quicken work processes and create a more centered work environment.
Erin P. Friar
Erin Friar is a Content Marketing Journalist Intern at Repsly, Inc. and is completing a Journalism degree at Suffolk University. She is a master of grammar and is passionate about creating fresh content to help foster efficiency and overall success in small businesses.