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The end of the email

In almost all companies today, email determines digital communication - yet in many cases there are now more optimal tools. Read which tool is best suited for which business scenario.

Grafik: Sunrise UPC GmbH - Screenshot

A typical start to work often looks like this: The employee starts up his computer, opens his e-mail programme - and is overwhelmed by the flood of messages. Depending on which study you believe, the average office worker receives between 18 and 37 e-mails per day that are actually addressed to him or her.

A considerable proportion of the flood of e-mails is caused by messages that arrive in the mailbox as copies via CC and BCC. It is true that the "carbon copy" has its purpose - namely to keep colleagues up to date. But today CC in particular is used across the board in a blanket and untargeted manner. The result: many, often eternally long e-mail chains that clog up the inbox and unnecessarily inflate the mail volume.

For company employees, this flood of e-mails means a lot of work and stress. According to a study by the TK health insurance fund, 40 per cent of employees in German companies complain about stress caused by e-mail-related information overload. This should be no different in Switzerland.

Yet information overload and inefficient CC mentality are not even the only disadvantages of e-mail:

  • It is difficult to find specific information and feedback in emails,

  • If a staff member requests information from a colleague, he has to wait until the answer arrives,

  • E-mail threads from several messages have to be laboriously searched together,

  • Work processes are completely missing.

Barbara Josef, co-founder of 5to9 AG and specialist for new forms of work, sees the biggest disadvantage of email in the fact that no dialogue can develop: "You can't ask questions very well by email, you can't exchange knowledge and you can't discuss things informally. In the meantime, there are new platforms that can do many things better than email."

Better than email: alternative tools

Many companies have recognised the shortcomings of email and have started to use alternative communication tools. They are designed to optimise the internal flow of information and keep it transparent for all employees. Often this involves the introduction of enterprise social networking.

The most important alternatives to e-mail - and for which situations they are suitable:

  • Face-to-face conversation: If you want to convince someone, ask for a favour or simply make new contacts, the face-to-face conversation is still the best way. A personal exchange between colleagues is ideal for quickly clarifying issues or questions where the person initiating the conversation does not know for sure how well the person being contacted is familiar with the topic. A Canadian study came to the conclusion: direct enquiries and a personal conversation are 34 times more effective than e-mails.

  • Project management software: If you need to organise projects, it is better to use project management tools than e-mail. With programmes like Trellok, you can plan projects easily and clearly and structure them optimally. The progress of the project can be called up at any time and the individual progress of all project participants is documented. Trello is also available as an app for iOS and Android.

  • Chat: You can use the on-screen chat if you want to have quick question and answer dialogues on concrete issues with one person or in a group. Things that need to be clarified promptly and that are not too complex. Chat is particularly recommended if the other person is sitting in a conference or if - as in open-plan offices - the noise level must be kept low. The disadvantage: you have to know exactly who you are contacting. Google Mail, for example, has an integrated chat function.

  • Skype for Business: Skype is always the first choice when a face-to-face meeting is necessary but not possible for time or local reasons. The video conferencing system can be used above all to exchange views on complex topics with colleagues at other locations or in the home office. It can also be used to hold training sessions. In practice, the video function is not that important. "Most companies don't use video, but only the 'share screen' function," says Barbara Josef. "They can use it to go through a PowerPoint presentation together, for example."

  • Enterprise social networking: Enterprise social networking platforms such as Slack or Yammer are the latest communication tools - and are currently experiencing a real boom as forums for discussion and knowledge transfer. "These platforms enable completely new forms of communication and knowledge exchange," says Barbara Josef. "People are invited to join in the discussion. It's quick, you can share ideas and thoughts promptly, similar to Facebook - and dialogues develop." Slack and Co are particularly exciting when you want to gather opinions on a topic without knowing exactly who all is dealing with the issue or who has expertise or experience. This undirected communication is also one of the main differences to e-mail: There, you always have to communicate in a targeted manner, know the addressees and this must not be too large.

For Barbara Josef, demonising e-mail across the board makes no sense. "Email is not good or bad per se - it's a question of how you use it. There are uses for which e-mail can still be used well - for example, if you want to share a piece of information that is not time-critical. Or when the focus is only on one direction of communication and not on dialogue. In those cases, email still fits very well."



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