Why is Email Still Popular?

By Lisa Ricciuti posted 02-11-2015 11:48


This is a continuation of last week's post which focused on some of the many uses of email and ways email has made my life easier. This week's post explores a few reasons why email is still popular with some suggestions for making foundation changes to help resolve ongoing challenges.  

There are a number of reasons why email is still popular, even with the advent of so many new social applications and email alternatives coming into the workplace. 

  1. Habit - Email has been around for decades and many people are comfortable using it.  Most people know how email works and it works with everybody regardless if they’re on Google, Yahoo, Hotmail or Outlook, etc.
  2. Collaboration - When collaborating on documents, sometimes people use email because it captures the commentary with an attached document.  Even when people can send a hyperlink to a document in a repository or shared network drive, sometimes it’s still useful to have comments or dialogue accompanying the document, which is still often done through email.
  3. Reliability – Perhaps because email has been around for over 20 years, it is seen as a more reliable vehicle to communicate with others. 
  4. Accessibility – One of the biggest challenges with mobile workers is having access to the necessary documents.  Depending on how the company platform is set up, sometimes employees email attachments to themselves, or others, so they can access the documents reliably.  It’s a workaround. 
  5. Culturally ingrained – Using email has become part of the workplace culture for a variety of reasons. 
  6. Cover your bleep – Email is often used to create a “paper” trail or to document various interactions. 
  7. Privacy and Security – Email offers a way to converse with one person, or many, all in a relatively private way, something that is not always readily available through social media. 

When email is so readily available and so easy to use, it’s not surprising that so many people rely on it.  I recently collaborated with two other consultants on a fast-paced project.  Initially I suggested setting up a collaborative platform for the work we were going to do jointly, but the timelines were so short that there wasn’t time to set something up and have everybody learn it.  One teammate remarked, “we’ll just have to make do with good old-fashioned email.”  Even though email got chaotic at times, we were ready to go instantly.

Making Foundation Changes

One thing I’ve noticed in attending so many seminars and presentations on email management is that there never seems to be a lot of attention paid to email creation.  Many challenges existing with email management have to do with how emails are being created and how they are being used.   Here are some of the main challenges:

  • Mixing personal and professional in the same email
  • Inadequate or useless subject lines
  • Combining multiple subjects (or projects) in one email
  • Understanding when it is appropriate to email instead of
    • Over emailing instead of getting up to speak with somebody directly
    • Under emailing and leaving gaps by not documenting enough
  • Lack of roles and responsibilities in regards to who is responsible for saving emails/attachments 
  • Sending attachments instead of using alternative methods (e.g. sending hyperlinks, setting up alternative collaboration sites, etc.)
  • Confusion about how or when to use email to Cover Your Bleep

There seems to be a general understanding that email is important, it’s just not always clear to users which ones are important, or how to create an email with long term business value.  Many of the email management strategies I’ve heard about focus on how to identify and capture those “important” emails after creation, but they don’t seem to include strategies for how to create those important emails in the first place.  Have we given up on trying to educate users on these basic concepts?  Is it a better strategy to compensate for poorly created emails and save too much hoping that the important ones made it into the mix? 

Since it looks like email is here to stay for a little while longer, perhaps some time and attention could be geared towards the basics of writing a proper email as part of an email management solution.  Even though many email management solutions are probably very successful, if they’re capturing poorly constructed emails that haven’t been labeled properly, I don’t see how even the most sophisticated and high-tech solution will resolve this fundamental challenge.  

Please read more in a free book from AIIM, What are the Uses of Email: Addressing the Challenges of Email Management

#emailmanagement #EnterpriseContentManagement