Communication has become faster and easier in many ways, but the excess of channels often leads to confusion when it comes to identifying messages of actual importance. This is especially true of email. But despite repeated claims that email is dead or dying, it remains a central communication channel in most organizations. And it's not hard to see why. Email is fast, it's accessible on any device — including mobile — and it's easy to use.
Whether or not email the right tool for internal communication seems like a moot question. Email isn't going away any time soon. As long as it remains part of a multi-channel communication strategy, we should try to understand its limitations. Doing so will allow communicators to use email as effectively as possible, and help your employees to fully understand which channels are best for receiving information.
1. Information Overload
Our email inboxes are packed full, making one of our most important working tools inefficient and slow. The sheer number of messages we now receive can lead to the most important ones getting lost, deleted, or forgotten.
In addition, employees are easily frustrated when their workload becomes overwhelming. Just one email can prove highly distracting. Just consider all of the newsletters and blogs to which you've subscribed. Reading through a single one can consume an inordinate amount of time, distracting you from the task at hand.
In fact, studies show that after reading an email it can take up to twenty-five minutes to refocus on the work you were originally doing.
2. Are Emails, Well, Kind of Old-School?
Sure, they're still extremely important for communication, but you have to agree that emails are kind of old-school in their formality and rate of acknowledgment. While text messages are read within the first three minutes following receipt, that’s only true for 20% of emails.
The truth today is that we don't use email for our personal communication. Emails don’t support engagement; they lack the easy user experience of social sharing; and as soon as too many people join a conversation they become confusing. And as the format was originally designed for desktops, it really isn’t mobile-first.
It's also interesting to note that many members of Generation Z, all of whom are now steadily moving into the workforce, often don't even have a personal email address. And why should they? Conversations now take place on cost-free messaging platforms that depend more on push notifications.
3. Emails Are Often Too Long
Emails tend to be too long. Sure, short emails are possible, but the format invites users to write lengthy paragraphs. Contrast this with the desire for brevity and speed that defines the generation of younger workers.
In a recent study, the Pew Research Center has shown that people under the age of 35 feel "the need for instant gratification" and a growing "loss of patience." As Internet speeds increase, people are less willing to wait for websites to load, videos to buffer, and colleagues to respond to their messages.
In other words, if you're still exclusively using email for internal communication then you're risking your messages being skimmed, going unread, or simply being deleted.
4. Too Many Messages over Too Many Channels
In order to ensure that employees receive their intended messages, teams tend to push them on multiple channels. This means your employees could possibly get the same message several times over. Such overkill might lead to annoyance at best, or to messages being ignored at worse. In both scenarios, there's no way of knowing exactly what happened.
This overload of channels and messages, along with the inability to measure reception and reaction, leads to a loss of efficiency and productivity in the workplace.
5. Are Spam Filters Canceling You Out?
Some of us receive up to 12,000 spam emails every day without even noticing it. Add to that the number of those that actually get through to your spam folder and you can conclude that there's a pretty good possibility of there being at least one email in there that you would've wanted to know about.
Spam filters are great—they certainly save time and keep our inboxes safe—but the increased need to make them more secure also increases the possibility of messages being rejected or lost.
6. Do Your Emails Support Media Richness?
We use social networks daily and are used to a high amount of rich media. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words. Text needs to be accompanied by images; videos get more clicks than pictures; and infographics get more shares than videos. In addition, emojis and memes have begun taking the place of text.
Emails don’t support this kind of media versatility, limiting the sender in what he or she wants to say, as well as what a recipient can get from a message.
7. Email Doesn't Facilitate Conversations
Generation Z and millennials need feedback. Consistently. Top-down (as well as peer-to-peer) communication is essential for keeping this loop running effectively. But giving regular feedback to your employees via email takes a lot of work. Imagine trying to write individual emails to every one of your 400 employees every week.
In comparison, modern communication channels like chats encourage interactive conversations between peers, while push messages allow management to give better feedback in less time. Plus it can be targeted and sent "on the go."
8. Targeting for Large Groups Is a Mess
Tailoring content for emails meant for large groups is stressful, not to mention trying to decide who should be included or not.
Modern channels like an employee app enable you to create open and closed groups, automatically assigning employees according to location, department, or role. These groups are instantly updated when employees are on- and off-boarded, and they help to efficiently target content.
9. Does Email Leave Non-Desk Workers out of the Information Loop?
70% of today's workforce doesn't work at a desk and not every employee has a corporate email address. Consequently, email isn’t even an option if your intention is to reach everybody.
Remote freelancers and gig workers especially feel out of the loop, and running internal communication over email only serves to increase these feelings of isolation and deepen communication silos.
When it comes to internal communication, emails are obsolete. By their very nature, they tend to generate more emails, more meetings, and more conversations—creating more problems than they actually solve. They lack the speed and ease of an intuitive, engaging platform, and they fail to effectively reach the non-desk workforce.
With new communication technologies emerging and workplace demographics changing, it will be a key challenge for companies to find a platform that enhances the employee experience, supports the employer brand, and is of practical use throughout the employee life cycle—from onboarding to engagement and recognition programs.
Communication outside of the workplace has long since moved to social media platforms and a diverse array of fast, far-reaching channels that are second nature to younger generations. It’s time for internal communication to catch up.