Won’t You Be My Neighbor? When Email is Not Enough

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How often do we hear people describing and complaining about the volume of emails in the inbox? A number I hear often is 200 per day. Ouch. That is not a contest I want to win.

Anyone who is dealing with that many emails is: 1. Probably sending out too many messages and that’s why so many are coming back, and 2. Spending all day draining email instead of working on more productive activiites. Not good. Sure, email is an incredible communications tool and can increase productivity 24/7. We are addicted and I admit, I am an email junkie. We are so accustomed to it that we look for nuances and are prone to adding complexity to it. A simple addition of a punctuation mark, or clicking on BOLD or italic or a carefully placed CC can strike fear or joy.

But there is another element to email that is pervasive and hurting organizations – email is too easy. It is so much easier to send an email than to engage with someone in a real up close and personal interaction. Part of the joy of work, we are taught, is the sense of colleagueship and the relationships we build.

Can we get to know colleagues through email alone? Probably not.

A meaningful career is not derived from the number of emails we send or receive.

Instead of sending an email to the guy in the office next to you, say hello. When people talk to each other and know each other and innovation is more likely to happen. Imagine if the Beatles had sent emails to each other.

The alternatives are not altogether appealing. No one I know wants to attend more meetings, and conference calls are in that same category. At least with conference calls we hear voices and can detect accents or emotions that help us understand others a little more.

Email allows us to multitask in complicated ways. Email allows us to work at home. Email allows us to communicate with many all at once. (One organization I know sent layoff notices through email. It was a long email and probably could have been one word: UNFORTUNATELY.) Email is the enabler of today’s work world.

We are learning to be even more efficient by sending ever-shorter messages. Email has become like Twitter – the shorter the better. One colleague of mine would respond to emails with cryptic responses like TL;NR (Too Long; Not Read) or WTF (What the Heck)

Once a relationship is firmly established, email can work in more effective ways. I can send an email to my children and although it may be short, they know I love them.

I am not suggesting at all that any one abandon email. I am saying that email alone is not enough to build an organization. Emails don’t get invited to birthday parties or show up at the Friday afternoon beer bust. Go make some friends at the coffee machine.

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