Change company culture? Change your email

If you want to change the way people communicate in your business, you need to change the culture.

I recently wrote a post over at 99U documenting my experiment and subsequent decision to stop using email. It has generated a good discussion and I have particularly enjoyed the idea exchange that has happened around information management and overwhelm in the workplace.

Since the article went live, we have received a number of calls and messages from clients asking how they can reduce the email volumes in their companies.

Email is a communication method. Communication in any business is determined by company culture. If you want to change the way people communicate in your business, you need to change the culture. This responsibility lies with senior management.

People choose to send email over other communication for the following reasons:

It delays action on the sender’s part because it pushes the ball into someone else’s court for a while.
Sending email feels like work, so it makes people feel productive.
An email allows one the space to think things through before hitting send, which is good for very detailed communication.
Some people like to have zero emails in their inbox, so they keep emptying it out.
Telephone calls are seen as a risky communication form because they do not leave a paper trail.
Social media platforms, including messenger platforms such as Skype, are blocked in some companies.
Email is the preferred communication method of senior managers, business owners and directors in most companies.
Email is a very easy way to store information, very quickly.

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Communication can be broken down into three primary categories:

Day to day discussions that do not need to be retained for future reference
Important information that needs to be referenced again by team members
Information that needs to to move to a task list because it requires specific action or further brainstorming
Each communication type is best suited to certain types of platforms. Day to day discussions fit well with instant messaging such as Skype. Communication that needs to be referenced, brainstormed further and assigned to tasks lists, is well suited to project tools or document manager tools such as Dropbox, Teamwork, Evernote and Google Drive because everyone has access in a central place and version control can happen in certain project tools.

Employees and managers need to decide on accepted types of communication that works for their business. In the comments over at 99U, one reader shared this comment:

“I’m a director for a company with responsibility for workflow management & technical implementation of virtually everything. We’re a regional news & media website supporting and promoting good beer, good cider, pubs & breweries – the things we generally do are list events that are happening, and run news stories, backed up by photos & videos, alongside developing a bespoke database of all the known breweries & beers in our area.

I simply can’t “remove email” much as I can’t “remove twitter” or “remove Facebook”. What we do instead is manage everything through osTicket – an opensource ticket management system that we’re in the process of customising.
Currently, some of our clients are beginning to use it more – especially in response to our replies (which we always send out from within osTicket). However, we still get a lot of press releases which are sent by email (usually to a number of reporters from different companies), and still get DMs in response to our tweets scheduled by HootSuite, so we’ve adapted to suit our clients, whilst still being able to manage our productivity quite efficiently.”

This is a very practical case study as to how a company has implemented a system to make communication really flow for them.

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