It’s no secret that email has transformed workplace communications over the past three or four decades.
The benefits of email—from enabling asynchronous communication to organizing conversations—are profound, and we’ll get into some of those later. But what’s often overlooked is our over-reliance on this method of communication, and how it might actually be hurting the productivity and efficiency of many businesses.1
That’s right. You and your team are probably relying on email too much.
Not only does an infatuation with email lead to the development of email anxiety, but it’s also holding your company back from reaching its ultimate potential.2
We’re not telling you to abandon email. That would be… unwise.3 In fact, in most companies, email will continue to reign supreme as the ultimate communication method.
But that’s not to say email is the answer to everything. There are situations, problems, projects, conversations, details, and ideas that aren’t fit to be communicated via email. Some things, as you may have already discovered while working remotely during COVID-19, are better communicated over products and services that RingCentral provides, such as video, phone, and instant messaging.
So without further ado, here are some things you’ll walk away knowing after reading this article:
- The benefits of email communication
- Is your email communication process helping or hurting your business?
- The pitfalls of email
- 5 tips for more effective email communication
📥 Are you over email? If you hit at least one of the points on our checklist, it’s time to consider an email alternative.
Like most things that are common and popular, there’s a reason nearly every company in the world relies on email for communication.
And that’s because effective email communication helps attract new business, nurture leads, close deals, enhance relationships, improve collaboration and idea-sharing, strengthen organizational bonds, and so on.
Really, there are countless benefits of having a dependable, well-oiled email communication process at your company. The problem? Many companies don’t. And that could be due, in part, to the fact that they don’t understand the benefits of email communication skills and how to make the most of them.
If that’s you, then have no fear. You’re about to learn them now.
#1 Email gives you the opportunity to think critically about your message
Email isn’t instant messaging. There’s nobody on the other end who can see that you’re typing. There’s no unspoken pressure to answer within a certain amount of time (okay, maybe for some emails, but generally speaking they’re a bit less time-sensitive than instant messages).
This gives you the chance to think before writing and sending an email, which is a great benefit, especially when you have a lot of information to communicate at one time.
#2 Email allows for easy file sharing and access to information
From a purely functional standpoint, email helps teams rapidly share files.
These could be PDFs, JPGs, PNGs, PowerPoint, Keynote, Word documents, Excel sheets, and the list goes on and on.
File sharing of this nature tends to increase collaboration and improve productivity because people who would otherwise not have access to the same information now have the ability to work on the same file simultaneously.
#3 Email works everywhere as long as there’s internet
It may not seem like much, but when combined with benefits #1 and #2, having access to your email anywhere there’s internet is a huge asset, especially in today’s global economy.
You never know when an important email might need tending to. You could be at the airport, on a tropical island during vacation, or out on a hike, so being able to access email anywhere and everywhere is one of our most beloved benefits of email communication.
#4 Email is a great way to articulate your thoughts in their entirety
Because email gives you the time to critically think about what you’re saying, it’s hugely helpful in sending thorough, thoughtful, and well-researched notes out to your team, customers, and prospects.
This doesn’t necessarily mean good emails are long emails with a handful of backlinks and sources. It just goes to show that email is more of a proactive means of communication than reactive, which is more common in video, phone/voice, and instant messaging.
Both have their benefits and disadvantages, and both are necessary, but when it comes to proactive communication, email takes the cake.
#5 Email is free and simple to use
It’s that simple. There aren’t many communication platforms that are both free and easy to understand like email.
Depending on your email communication skills and how you’re using them, you and your team could be greatly helping—or severely hurting—communication at your company.
Let’s take a look.
Email communication in the workplace is helping your business if…
- Conversations with clients and prospects predominantly occur over email
- There are single threads designated to single subjects, allowing for easy search and accessibility
- Conversations with team members are restricted to work-related topics only
- Each member of your company is organizing their emails in the same format using the same language and color-coded system
- You have set reasonable expectations for email response times for clients and internal team members
Email communication in the workplace is hurting your business if…
- Conversations with clients and prospects are happening in many different places
- There are numerous threads related to the same subject
- Internal team members are gossiping via email, trying to use email as an instant-messaging platform, and/or subscribing to non-work-related email lists
- Each member of your company organizes their email in a completely different way
- You haven’t set reasonable expectations for email response times for clients and internal team members
So far, we’ve covered a lot of the benefits of email communication and why it can be a tremendous asset for any company.
But that’s only half of the story.
The other half of this story is the dark side of email—the anxiety-inducing overflow of an inbox, the never-ending notifications of new mail, and the inability to find an important message in a massive thread.
Fact is, for just about every benefit of email, there’s a drawback. Let’s take a look at some of the bigger ones.
#1 Inbox overload is a productivity killer (and it’s plain-old bad for you)
When your inbox is overflowing with message after message from this person and that brand, it can take a toll on your work productivity and your general well-being.
An inbox packed to the brim not only requires you to spend precious time sifting through each one—context-switching over and over again—but it’s also stress-inducing.
This isn’t theory, either. This is fact.
A 2019 scientific study found that a cluttered inbox and higher email load are associated with higher workload stress, which is associated with greater psychological strain, increased negative emotions, and decreased organizational commitment.4
Start overcoming inbox overload by actively unsubscribing from all unnecessary newsletters.
#2 It’s easy to misunderstand email’s purpose—and abuse it
Email, being an online communication method, makes it rather easy and effortless to send messages to other people.
This is great… if you know how to use email appropriately.
Problems arise when a company’s employees begin using email as a means to catch up with one another, schedule meetings with each other, and gossip. In fact, you might be guilty of these things as well.
And that’s okay if you are. To a certain degree, everyone is. But there are a number of ways to develop email communication skills that will improve your company, and one of the best ways is learning how not to rely on email.
In other words, you’re almost undoubtedly using email too often for workplace communications.
For a number of other types of communication, like meeting requests, team catch-ups, and short-form messaging, there are some great alternatives to email that can help your business streamline communication and improve productivity. These include, but aren’t limited to:
Our tip? Use an all-in-one platform that has all three, so your team isn’t constantly switching between tools:
#3 Personality can be hard to convey in an email
Let’s face it: not everyone is a writer. And it takes a fairly seasoned, comfortable writer to infuse personality and tone consistently into their writing.
So, although some people have a natural gift for delivering emails that nail the tone they’re speaking in, many people fail to accurately portray the energy and personality behind their message.
This can lead to all sorts of trouble for the person, as email recipient’s can fall victim to overthinking emails with vague tones, leaving them to wonder whether the sender is angry, happy, or somewhere in between.
This is yet again another reason to start using video conferencing and/or phone calls more often in your workplace communications.
In the worst case, the simplest error in email tone can send someone down a spiraling path of self-doubt and insecurity, when in reality you had no intention of making them feel that way.
Instead of running that risk, just set up a video call or pick up the phone and give the person a ring. You’ll both be better off for it.
#4 Conversations and files are easily lost in the email shuffle
Sure, finding some files and conversations within email threads can be easy, but some others?
Forget about it.
Seriously, it’s true. Once you have too many email correspondences with a particular person, or if a thread gets too long, or if a file’s been shared multiple times in multiple places, locating specific items in your inbox history becomes nearly impossible.
Okay, not impossible. But pretty close. Plus, taking the time to sift through all the different messages to find the one is almost guaranteed to give you one of those dreaded day-ruining headaches.
So, what’s the trick in reducing conversations and threads in email?
Well, exactly that: start emailing less.
#5 Unspoken expectations about response times could hurt relationships
Ever been waiting on someone to email you back, and after a few days you fear you’ve been “ghosted?”
Yup, us too.
It’s not fun waiting around for responses to your emails, especially if they’re of supreme importance.
But the bottom line is: unless you set expectations about a response time with your recipient prior to—or within—the initial email, then you have nobody to blame but yourself.
All of this could lead to fragmented communications and inconsistent responses, which ultimately ladders up to a fractured relationship. And whether it’s a big client or an intern at your company, having a gap in communication is a surefire way to jeopardize a relationship, which all business leaders should try to avoid.
So with all of this in mind, let’s talk about the five email communication tips that can greatly improve email communication in the workplace.
The best part? You can start implementing these right now.
Besides more actively managing email response expectations, start taking inventory of the types of communication via email you have with people and take note of any you think would be better off as phone calls. Then, start having those conversations over the phone instead. This way, you don’t have to stress about response times and you can get your answers in real time (plus, by having fewer conversations via email, you’ll automatically be improving email communication at the same time).
#1 Know what you’re trying to achieve with each email
Let’s pretend there’s a message you need to communicate at your company.
Most of the time, what do you do? If you’re like most people, you probably sit down and begin hammering away at an email.
But is that always the right route to go? Nope, it’s not.
Depending on your message, you should change the means of your communication.
Inboxes are cherished territory. Don’t you hate it when you get an email that could’ve been better handled as an instant message? Or a phone call?
Unnecessary emails clog up your inbox, which means more work, more stress, and more wasted time doing administrative tasks for you and your team.
A lot of emails don’t have to be emails. Here’s a little breakdown of when and when not to email:
When should you rely on email in business communication?
- When you make lengthy internal announcements
- These could be about new hires, departing employees, shifts in the company’s mission, updates on processes, etc.
- When you need a paper trail for a project
- Email is ideal for laying everything out in writing and being able to reference back to it if necessary.
- When you have files to attach
- This could also be done in many instant messaging apps today, but email is always a safe bet when you need to attach a file.
When should you avoid email in business communication?
- When you need or expect a response immediately
- People check their email at different times during the day, but it can’t be expected that someone is always on email. If you need an answer right away, call them or instant message them on an app like RingCentral:
- When you’re looking to have a conversation with someone, and not just share information
- Email is great for delivering big thoughts and ideas back and forth. Not so much for debates, long-winded conversations, and the like.
- When you have personal information to share
- Keep those social security numbers and credit cards away from email.
- When you’re delivering a message you wouldn’t want to receive via email
- Bad news? Really amazing news? Tough feedback? If you wouldn’t want to receive it via email, pick up the phone or get on a video call and do it the right way.
#2 Use a subject line that directly reflects the email’s purpose
If your email was a book, your subject line would be your cover.
And, contrary to conventional wisdom, we humans really do judge books by their cover.5
So craft your subject line carefully. Make sure it’s enticing and has personality, but more than anything else, make sure it reflects the email’s purpose. This helps the recipient prioritize it in their email and their mind, and if they’re able to do that without putting in extra effort, you’ve done your job well.
Use CoSchedule’s free email subject line tester.6 Try out a few different variations for important emails and see what resonates with people the most. You’ll know you’re doing it right when colleagues and clients start complimenting you on your subject lines.
#3 Make the email copy scannable and easy to read
Sometimes, the best writing is actually the best designed writing.
Well, If the writing isn’t designed well, it’s probably not even being read. At least not by anybody outside the walls of a college classroom.
Here are a few ways to design great email copy:
- Break up big blocks of text.
- Use headers and bullets.
- Use bold if you want people to pay special attention to certain words.
- Keep your sentences short and sweet.
- Only say what you have to. Fluff gets you nowhere in writing.
#4 Include action items at the end of your email
This one is simple, but it’s often overlooked, skipped, and forgotten.
Whenever you email someone, you should always include what you need or expect from them at the end of the email.
Do you need them to give you a file? Should they let you know a good time to call them? Are they responsible for giving you the “yes” or “no” on an approval?
Action items are vast and varied, but the important thing is knowing what you need and requesting it in clear and obvious language (and yes, using bold type can help your action item stand out from the rest of your text).
All right. Last but certainly not least, the email communication tip that might just prevail above all…
#5 If it isn’t absolutely, positively necessary, don’t send it
Seriously, why clutter an inbox when your message could be better delivered—and would be better received—via instant message, video, or phone?
There’s not much more to it than that, so next time you go to email someone, ask yourself:
- Is this worth my time writing?
- Is this worth their time reading?
- What will they get out of this email?
- What do I want to get out of this email?
- Is there a better way I could deliver this message?
Ready to start improving email communication by emailing less?
By now, you’re well aware of the benefits and pitfalls of email in business communication.
And you also know that to truly make email communication a success at your company, you need to stop relying on email so often.
So as you begin your journey toward better business communication, start experimenting with solutions that’ll keep you and your team away from your inboxes and closer to what really matters—solving problems, making progress, and working together successfully.
We’re talking about an all-in-one communication platform like RingCentral’s, which gives you HD voice and video, intuitive messaging app, and a phone system. It’s designed to help businesses flourish when it comes to communication (and we’re pretty confident you’ll like the results).
Originally published Oct 01, 2020, updated Feb 16, 2021