You've got mail
boon or burden?
YOU BELIEVE the statistics
were all at it. By 2001, half the population of the US will be doing it more than
500 million times a day1. The Queen beat all but a handful of
academics to it, by doing it for the first time in 1976. It is email. You only need
to walk near a computer and someone will send you one. And then another. And then, on
average, about 45 each day2.
St the risk of adding to the overload, lets get our facts straight.
Three quarters of all email is of no practical use. Up to half of it is deleted without
being read3. And contributing to this is the fact that less than
half of us receive any training in electronic communications - and far less are taught how
to reduce the email overload4.
Why are we doing it?
Theres at least three good reasons why were doing it:
Its fast and its cheap: Recent
research5 draws this out conclusively. Heres what it takes
to send a 42 page document from New York to Tokyo:
It keeps us in touch: With email we can stay in
the loop whether were at our desks, working from home, on client premises, in our
hotel room or on the move. Now we dont need to be connected to our
organisations local area network, we can work with a laptop and a dial-up
connection, a palmtop or even a mobile phone.
It saves on the trees: In theory at least, more
electronic communication means less paper. Hopefully you dont print out all your
emails, you save them to disk or delete them. And in doing so, you dont lose out on
the audit trail - electronic storage provides a perfectly adequate record and, with proper
backups, is a lot safer.
But at what risk?
When we embrace electronic communications, we do so at our peril:
You may be misunderstood: Email is not a subtle
medium and you may not come across quite as you intended. Its all too easy to send
flames (inflammatory or critical messages) in the heat of the moment and to
have deep regrets the morning after. In a survey of employees in the City of London6,
81% of respondents felt that email was used when personal communication would be more
You lose control of your time: Some employees
report becoming slaves to email, with messages arriving at all times of day and night,
giving the impression that they are expected to be available 24 hours a day.
You never know who might read that message: In
1997, a major financial company was forced to pay £450,000 to a rival, after libelling
them in emails that had been sent internally. The rival obtained a court order to read the
messages after hearing about them. And a recent survey on the abuse of email7
turned up one employee who lost her job after forwarding a clients email to a
colleague, with an insult added at the top. After inadvertently hitting the reply button,
the employee not only lost her job, the company lost the client.
Spam, spam and more spam: Unsolicited, unwanted
emails are called spam and mostly theyre about as likeable as all that
junk mail that arrives through your letterbox. At first you may believe all those claims
for how you can make money, lose weight and generally enrich your life. You soon catch on.
You can have too much spam.
So how does it work?
Email is like conventional mail but without the postman. When you press
send, its like shoving the letter in the post box (although, with a
dial-up connection, your mail tends to lay in the out tray for a while before being posted
in bulk). At the post office (actually your mail server), they look at the address and
determine which other post office to forward the message on to. And rather than using a
van, the railway or a plane, they use your companys network or the Internet to get
the message there. At its destination, the message waits in the recipients mailbox
until such time as they stop by and collect it - I told you there was no postman -
although thats usually just a question of clicking on the receive
So the mechanics are simple. Far too simple. Much harder is
making this technology work for us. Ive trawled round the Internet - so you
dont have to! - to see how others have solved the problem. And heres what I
found, the four steps to email mastery:
- Know when to use email
- Be a responsible email user
- Compose your messages with care
- Minimise the e-load