One of the worst things about coming back to work after taking time off, is the number of emails waiting for you. It’s not uncommon to find more than 600 new messages in your email inbox, and that’s after just one week!
The sad reality though, is that the amount of emails we send and receive is a problem all year round – not just while we’re on holiday. And many experts believe that this excessive email and notification culture we are living in, is even causing problems for our employees’ mental health.
So today, I’d like to explore ways you can reduce emails at work.
The problem with too many emails
So, before you try to reduce emails at work, you might be asking what the scale of the problem is? Well, Lifewire says that the average office worker receives 121 emails per day.
And according to the UK’s leading expert on workplace wellbeing, we are sending too many emails outside of working hours, too. And it’s impacting the mental health and wellbeing of our employees!
“The thing is with emails” says Professor Sir Cary Cooper, writing for the People HR Blog “is that it’s really easy for you to just dump them on anybody, at any time. And what’s worrying, is that people think this is an acceptable thing to do, without considering the consequences.”
Professor Cooper advises that to improve the wellbeing of your workforce, you should stop sending emails outside of work completely. But this doesn’t necessarily deal with the sheer volume of emails we are sending and receiving. So how can we reduce that?
Condense multiple messages into one
One obvious solution, is to send less emails, each with more content. Now, this approach does have pitfalls, which I’ll mention in a moment. But this technique can be extremely useful, especially when you apply it to “passive” emails. Such as notifications that people need to see, but that they don’t necessarily need to respond to.
And that’s actually something we’re writing into our software here at People HR.
At the Future of Work Conference 2019, People HR’s CEO Sat Sindhar said: “Rather than getting email after email in your inbox, we actually send mobile notifications. And we’ll condense some, so you don’t get a bunch of them. You’ll get one, then it’ll just rack up one after the other.”
But you can’t always condense multiple emails into just one or two. And in some circumstances, experts advise that the way to reduce emails at work, is actually to move some of the conversations to a better platform. For example, by having a real life conversation!
Not all workplace discussions should be held over email
Many of us rely on email for almost all workplace conversations. But Alan Zucker, founder of Project Management Essentials, says that for some types of communication, email is a terrible format. And we can actually reduce emails at work by moving some of these conversations elsewhere.
“Email is good when you want to communicate broadly” says Zucker “which means that the content does not need a lot of discussion. Complex ideas or discussions, however, are not effectively communicated by email. Those discussions should take place face-to-face, or through an interactive platform.”
Zucker agrees that fewer emails per day is a good thing. But he warns against the dangers of packing more complex discussions, into fewer emails.
“Packing multiple, disparate topics into a single email will be ineffective” he continues. “People are more effective when they break complex problems into smaller, more manageable tasks. Experience shows that teams that decompose their work into tasks that can be delivered quickly, are more productive.”
Improving the way you format your emails can reduce anxiety
Condensing emails where possible, and moving some of your conversations to a better medium, can help reduce the clutter and the “white noise” caused by email. But when you really must send a lot of information, and you really must send it over email, you should practice good formatting – and encourage your staff to do the same.
“Receiving one large email containing a lot of information all in one go can be daunting or off-putting” says Jake Penney, Head of HR at English Blinds “and if the content within it is rambling or disjointed, it will remain so. However, if the information within it is properly presented by means of its layout, structure, and the relevant succinctness, then larger emails have numerous benefits, for both the receivers of them, and the senders.”
One of the benefits, says Penney, is that people will be less likely to tune out such emails, along with the rest of the white noise in their inbox.
“Lots of emails from one source or on one topic can result in a level of snow-blindness to all of them, which can result in information being missed or ignored” Penney explains. “Minimising the sending frequency maximises the gravitas of each one, and means that information within them – even longer-form information – has a greater impact, is more memorable, and is more likely to result in efficiency, as well as a more positive viewpoint about the content.”
Is it time to audit your organisation’s email practices?
Think about the last email you sent, and as yourself the following questions:
- Did you write a wall of text, with no clear formatting or presentation?
- Did you include unnecessary information?
- Did you follow up with more emails shortly after, to clarify or add more detail?
- Did you send it outside of working hours?
- Could you have had the same conversation face to face?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you can improve. And once you’ve perfected your own email habits, you can then begin to help others in your organisation to improve theirs.
If you make changes in the above five areas, you’ll soon be able to reduce emails at work, and create a happier, more stress-free environment.