I make stuff. Sometimes it amazes me that I am struggling with a power tool when a hand tool would be much quicker and easier. And the same is true for messaging – be it an email or text – I often do it when it would be quicker and simpler to pick up the phone. We are all the same but why do we do it?
It’s partly because it has become automatic, partly because we forget what we are trying to achieve and partly because we don’t realise how things have changed. Every so often we need to take stock of how we communicate, especially as technology is moving so fast.
The Benefits Of Email
So let’s examine the benefits of email..
- It’s a written record, there can be no dispute of what was said and when it was sent. This could have important contractual implications.
- It can be done there and then. You don’t have to concern yourself with whether the recipient is available and hence forgetting to call later.
- It can be considered. You can review or share a draft before actually sending it.
- It can be sent to multiple parties simultaneously. You may want to share some information with other people – either because they need to know or to mitigate against the recipient ignoring your email
- It can be searched. When you need to recall the correspondence and but cannot remember the exact date, time or recipient, then you can search for keywords.
- We can send “attachments” such as documents and images. We can and we do. Email is the single largest method of document exchange, and many actually use email as their primary method of document storage and retrieval – something it was never designed for.
The Disadvantages Of Email
But there are downsides too..
- It generally takes more time to draft an email than it does to relate something verbally.
- You rarely get an instant answer to a email.
- Email “conversations” tend to grow like topsy. When responding, most email users will resend the thread of all previous emails and so the size of emails can grow significantly. As much as 80% of all email data is a repetition of previous emails.
- If an email is sent to multiple recipients, then not only does it increase the amount of storage used, it increases the possibility it will be shared or modified without the sender’s consent.
- If the recipient(s) have a virus (and 20% of all of them do) then the sender’s email address can be quickly and unknowingly be distributed to spam lists.
- It’s all too easy to send an email to the wrong person.
- There is no guarantee your email will be read. It could be overlooked or filtered out as spam.
- Even if read, there is no guarantee you will get a response. Sadly, in today’s business culture it is normal to ignore any communication that the recipient does not wish to answer.
- A considered email will likely get a considered response. This may not be what you want.
- In the course of a verbal conversation, there is more information exchanged than just text. The human voice conveys information about the speaker’s character, attitude and demeanor. There is also often a lot of other information exchanged, which while it may be irrelevant to the primary objective of the call, may be invaluable to both parties – where they live, who they know, etc.You don’t get all that in a message.
Don’t think this just applies to email, many of these disadvantages apply to all forms of digital messages such as SMS, WhatsApp, etc.
So given all these downsides, it is surprising we don’t pick up the phone more often than we do. But the reason we do is simply that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages – or at least we think they do.
One of the biggest advantages of messages is that we can search and recall them at will. The majority of time spent with any message system is retrieving historic messages and documents and this outweighs all the disadvantages. Or does it?
If you can store and retrieve your phone calls at will, then you get back some of the advantages of email. Surprisingly to most business users, their calls are automatically recorded, yet they cannot retrieve them at will. Modern telephone systems automatically record calls yet these are only ever accessed in the event of some emergency – like the firm gets sued!
Yet there is a massive amount of free information in these calls which is crying out to save a company money and embarrassment. Just think how often you have scribbled notes that you cannot read? Or tried to relate a call to a colleague? Or not remembered something?
By sharing call recordings routinely – instead of treating them like the crown jewels – you not only make life easier, you save a lot of time wasted on inappropriate emails.
But you can’t search phone calls? Oh yes you can.
You may have heard of automatic speech recognition (ASR) and if you are forced into using it by your bank, it might have got a bad name. Yet despite appearances, ASR has reached the stage where it is almost as good as human in converting crucial speech into text. While it may be a while before it performs a perfect transcriptions, it is very good at identifying the sort of words you want to search for. You never search emails for “and” and “but” yet you are highly likely to search for some multi-syllabic word that conveys a lot of meaning. This is just the sort of word ASR thrives on.
As you might expect, I would not have got this far without proposing a solution to this, which is exactly what Threads is. It aggregates both messages and phone calls for a whole company so they can be searched by users at will, not just selected individuals in the IT department.
But that is not the point, how you achieve access to your emails and phone calls is up to you, but next time you send an email instead of picking up the phone, think about whether that is the best course of action. Even without Threads, people often tend to treat email like power tools, using them when a phone call would be cheaper, easier and quicker.