As of last Friday, I had over 3,000 emails in my work inbox. My laptop started to pack it in, groaning under the strain, and I was forced to delete, file, and save down attachments like there was no tomorrow.
Then I realised I had 2,763 emails in my sent items to sort through.
I’ll admit, I’ve been extremely remiss in keeping my work email under control. It still genuinely surprises me how quickly emails pile up when you’re working with a global team. But I also have to admit, there was something quite satisfying about being able to search for an email in the one place and not have to ferret through multiple folders, looking for the rationale behind why I agreed to use PMS 285 instead of PMS 284.
Unfortunately, despite the convenience of email communication, all too often I’m finding that we’re starting to abuse this technological marvel in a way that’s making us all more wary as colleagues towards each other.
Email is increasingly being used as a substitute for a conversation – and that means less understanding, less engagement, and less buy in. How many times has your mind drifted off mid-conversation, or mid-meeting, when someone is actually right in front of you, demanding your attention? How much worse is it, then, when there isn’t anyone in front of you, bringing the words to life? There is absolutely no substitute for real time human interaction – but more and more often, we’ll find ourselves dropping someone an email because it saves us time, or it’s more convenient. The problem being that it often takes more time in the long run since no one is aligned upfront.
On top of that, it seems that email trails are now a form of arse-covering. Even as I deleted large swathes of emails from my first months on the job, there was a little niggle in the back of my head wondering when it would come back to bite me: when I couldn’t prove I had contested an invoice, approved a certain piece of artwork to print, or disagreed with a course of action that had turned out to be the wrong approach. It’s a real shame when you feel that there might ever be the need for that.
And finally, email now seems to have taken the place of properly filed, shared documents. Instead of meeting minutes, action plans and timelines that can be accessed by all in a shared place, we’ve all got to trawl separately through our mailboxes looking for the agreed deadlines and allocated responsibilities. What with dodgy formatting as emails ping between Outlook, to Lotus, to web based programs; and with comments in every colour of the rainbow appended to each point by each successive person; negotiating an email clearly identifying the key takeouts can be nigh on impossible.
Don’t get me wrong, I love email. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could rely on it just a little less?