Many of us can’t imagine the sweet victory of an empty inbox today. What started out as a paper-spool-and-tape format designed by MIT in 1965 has since become a revolutionary communication mainstay.
But email isn’t perfect. In fact, in its current form, email can be seen in many ways as a time-waster, as communication with both clients and employees now seems to require at least a few polite but non-essential emails being passed back and forth. Some experts predict that it might even become obsolete in the next few decades.
So, do people still use email as productively and efficiently as they could? What are some alternatives to email, and could they make sense for your agency? What’s the future of email? We cover all these topics in our article, as well as some tactics you can use to make email work for you and your clients.
How emails revolutionized the industry
Email has come a long way since its infancy on a central disk in Cambridge, Massachusetts; programmer Ray Tomlinson added the ubiquitous “@” sign in ’71, forwarding was added in ’73 (and thank goodness, because how else would you have found out about all those vengeful ghosts in the nineties?😱), attachments became a thing in ’92, and in ’98 email did its best work – bringing Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks together.
When email became available for popular consumer use – with the advent of MicrosoftMail in 1988 and CompuServe’s internet-based email program in the following year – it completely revolutionized the way that people communicate with one another, as well as how we approach business.
Email brought the immediacy of phone use together with the professionalism of snail mail. It made businesses faster, as discussions that might have taken months could now take days or less. With the addition of attachments, important documents became much easier to send. Meanwhile, interactive emails have allowed many businesses to connect with their customers (and potential ones) in dynamic new ways.
Email is, like most digital tools, both a gift and a curse. Clients may now expect you to respond to their emails more immediately than you’d like, yet email also makes both everyday communication and business communication a lot simpler.
The problems with email
Despite email’s initial and ongoing popularity, it has a few major problems. The biggest one? There’s just too much of it. Internet use has skyrocketed in the past decades and so has the number of emails we’re expected to sift through every day.
Along with the important emails we receive from clients, loved ones, employees, and colleagues comes an array of unwanted junk – from advertisements and old newsletters to endless threads and spam. Email often becomes a ‘dumping ground’ for absolutely everything, rather than a dedicated place for significant communications.
The ‘email volleyball’ to which we’re all subjected has negative implications for productivity. Emails alone take up about 23% of the average employee’s time each day. Many employees are spending hundreds of hours replying to and writing emails each year; middle managers, for example, spend around 100 hours per year just on irrelevant email.
Moreover, a lot of that time is spent on communication bottlenecks rather than productive dialogue that translates into action. Email threads can quickly get unwieldy, meaning that decisions can end up taking longer than they need to.
Does this indicate that email might be growing obsolete? This question might make you feel like a dinosaur, but all recent data has indicated that Gen Z (today’s teens) won’t be emailing anyone’s heart like Britney Spears did in ’99. A 2012 Pew Research study found that teenagers use social media, texting, and Snapchat to communicate, while only 6% of them email each other regularly.
Whatever the future holds for email, it’s clear that if we keep using it as a communication tool then we have to find better ways in which to sharpen its utility.
How to reduce the number of emails you receive
The benefits of an empty inbox go beyond productivity. Hitting “inbox zero” could even help your mental health. Several studies have indicated that taking breaks from checking emails actually reduces stress levels. In turn, ‘email breaks’ cut down on interruptions at work -the more frazzled you are, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to focus.
Both internally and with clients, there are tactics that you can use to help your agency get control of your email. Labor-saving tools like Productive.io can be a buoy in the Gmail storm. Visual overviews of your sales pipeline and dynamic scheduling and project management tools will allow you to keep track of your clients’ needs with ease and sort through the usual confusing avalanche of emails.
Alternative apps to use instead of email
There are a few possible ways to eliminate your agency’s email surfeit. One is to use another app entirely in order to make decisions efficiently and cut down on email bulk.
Here are two programs that companies have started using instead:
Pros: Slack has become wildly popular as a hub for business communications since it first launched in 2014. Its sleek design, options for multiple channels, and instantaneous direct and group messages allow you to communicate across multiple levels of your organization with ease. Slack is particularly popular for building a sense of rapport among remote teams.
Cons: Slack can be subject to some of the same bottlenecks as email, especially for freelancers and the agencies who hire them. If someone isn’t ‘logged in’ to a given Slack channel consistently, it can become easy to lose track of a conversation.
Pros: Yammer is Microsoft’s collaboration tool. It allows employees at all levels of an organization to form communities, allowing for easier teamwork and faster decision-making.
Cons: Some Yammer users complain that the app sends too many notifications. Another common complaint is that important conversations can get lost amid chit-chat.
Why project management tools are the obvious evolution
Utilising a well-structured project management tool that allows agencies to communicate directly and unambiguously with clients is the logical way to sidestep a lot of the problems with email. For instance, project management tools like that offered by Productive have assignees, deadlines, a clear sense of responsibility and visibility across the board. Email, however, often suffocates important messages while giving no option to directly assign tasks and requires that all important information be recorded elsewhere or risk being lost in the black box of a 30+ chain.
Having a place where your client can log in and check the status of their project, billable time, invoices, remaining budgets, latest work and anything else that might pique their curiosity is also just good practice, as they’re sure to feel more in control and comforted by this transparency.
What is the future of email?
The future role of email in business may be unclear, but it’s likely that it will be increasingly managed and streamlined with such tools as Productive.io.
It took a few decades for email to evolve from a revolutionary new tool for researchers and government entities to the most popular form of communication for businesses everywhere. But the revolution is gaining pace and we’ve all got to be as ready for it as Meg Ryan was for love.