These days, email is the dominant communication medium within and between organisations. Pity. Of course email has its uses – but I think we’re all guilty of defaulting to email far too often. Not only that, we can be guilty of not prioritising when and how we handle our emails – instead trying to deal with them all constantly, in no particular order, as if they’re equally urgent. IMHO we’re not great at writing them either (if that’s you, see my tips for writing emails that get read).
Result? Poor communication, poor time management, poor productivity.
Next time you find yourself defaulting to email, pause for a moment to consider some alternatives:
- Make a phone call
- Send an SMS
- Have a quick online chat
- Go and see the person
- Leave a hand-written note on their desk
- Schedule a video conference call
- Use meeting invites wisely
- Send a postcard
Caution: you may genuinely surprise the recipient, so unaccustomed are we to receiving calls that aren’t spam. So be sure to introduce yourself clearly and follow up with, “Is now a good time to talk about xyz?” If you need to leave a voicemail be clear about your reason for calling and when you need to hear back by.
If someone’s proving hard to reach this can get results. Take care on timing though – someone might be at the theatre (you know, leisure time stuff). Again be clear on why and by when you need the person to get back to you.
If you share a system such as Yammer, Outlook or Gmail you can have a quick online chat, ask questions, get answers and get moving. We tend to be more concise (yay) in online chat, but remember to keep the social niceties in at beginning and end.
“Didn’t you get my email?” is no way to build relationships with people in the same building. You’ll be more likely to build relationships (and visibility) if you take a trip to where the person you want to talk to is sitting and have a brief face to face chat. What if they’re not there? See 5 below. You may even find people on the way there and back that want to talk to you.
This can be stunningly effective – I’ve kept a few that have been left on mine over many years. It’s much more personal than an email, shows you were looking for the person and is more likely to get a positive response.
You may have a proprietary system, or simply use a Google Hangout, Face Time or Skype (the latter seems best able to cope with puny broadband capacity). Video can be preferable to the ‘squawk-box’ voice-only conference call as people have to behave themselves – it’s harder to roll your eyes at someone’s remarks when you can be seen…
Meeting invitations are a shamefully underused medium IMHO. They provide the opportunity to: state the objectives of the meeting, include links to essential pre-meeting reading (with a note saying the meeting will assume it’s all been read), send a map of the venue, provide a contact number if attendees are running late, and include an outline agenda with timings so that people know if they need to stay for the whole thing.
How old-school is that? It needn’t be if you use an online service that allows lots of personalisation such as MOO. A postcard can be a great way of keeping in touch with someone instead of adding to their email burden.
You may also find this blog post useful: Productivity drain – email pet hates.
Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.