I was looking at my phone on the weekend and I saw that I had 3000 unread emails in my inbox since I last cleared it out in October. Don't get me wrong, I check my email all the time and I reply to what is necessary, but with all the spam, newsletters (even ones I legitimately want), things I am cc'd on, etc, etc.... it quickly piles up.
The inventor of email, Shiva Ayyadurai, recently passed away and it made me wonder: Was email really the greatest invention of all time? Or does it is it chain us to our work and lower productivity by causing many interruptions throughout the day?
We cannot deny that email has greatly benefited the way we do business, however, it has become too many things to too many people. As the old saying goes "If your only tool is a hammer, Then every problem looks like a nail". That is what email has become to much of society in 2016.
Why address the problem?
Recent studies show that the average desk worker spends 28% of their working hours each week tending to emails. On top of that they say the average IQ drops 10 points when being distracted by email (similar to the effects of sleep deprivation). With the rise of the smart phone and push notifications, this is the world we have come to know. Our goal at c-Seven is to maximize the effectiveness of our use of emails and wherever possible, use better suited tools to foster more effective communication and collaboration.
At the beginning of 2015 as a company we really tried to eliminate inter-office email as much as possible for several reasons.
Productivity Zapper - Ding! The sound of that new email arrives... Oooh what could it be. Gee Bestbuy is having yet another sale. Great now I just broke my train of thought for something that wasn’t important. Even if it was something more relevant, checking your email constantly during the day is counter productive. In fact, people with their email open tend to change windows an average 38 times per hour vs 18 times per hour of those who don't.
Communication Breakdown - Hopefully your email inbox isn't as cluttered as mine, but trying to run a project via email is simply not the best way. Email does provide an important paper trail, however, It is hard to get an overall picture of where everything stands by scanning many individual emails. Often email correspondence is held between individuals and not everyone is looped in so information can easily get lost. Problems can also arise when a key organizer is temporarily not able to check and respond to emails for some reason such as illness or vacation.
Non Collaborative - Sure you can reply to emails but the only people in on the conversation are those cc'd. Email is typically lots of 1-to-1 conversations and does not lend itself to group collaboration. Rather than a lengthy email chain, there are many great online technologies to collaborate on discussions.
Non Intuitive - So you have just spent the last few days or weeks running your business and now need to get into working on your new site again. What was the status of that? Did I send you this already? The list goes on, because people forget things and a quick glance in the inbox doesn't give you a clear sense of what has been done and what is outstanding. Imagine trying to use your inbox as a calendar... seems silly right?
So how did we address this problem?
Thankfully we are not the only company that feels this way and many companies are working on ways to help businesses and their clients reduce the need for email so they can collaborate and communicate more effectively. We have tried many different softwares over the years, but we were ultimately looking for a couple great products that work well together and don't have very much overlap so you don't end up doing the same task in multiple softwares.
Below are the tools we use to reduce our overall email use...
Slack - Slack is a great instant messaging system similar to Skype or MSN. It allows for group collaboration and aims to eliminate the need for internal email communication. Given the fact our team is all remote we can easily see when teammates are available and send quick messages or have group discussions.
Trello - Trello is an easy-to-use online project management software that manages all the deliverables required on a project and guides everyone through our process. We like to break tasks down into the categories of to “do”, “doing”, “ready for review” and “done”. This ensures no steps are missed and gives us an at-a-glance look at where everything is at.
Google Drive & Google Docs - Google Drive is a cloud based storage system which enables us to easily share and collaborate on documents. Sending files back and forth runs the risk of them being out of sync and people working off the wrong versions. Google Documents allows us to work on Word or Excel documents simultaneously, ensuring nothing is out of sync. As well, changes can be tracked, comments added and more.
Freshdesk - Freshdesk is an email ticketing system that tracks, manages and assigns all email communication related to projects. This is a collaborative system which enables our entire team to look at all the communication ever sent between us and our clients. The main benefit of this system is that anyone from our team is able to assist our clients as they are not tied to a single account manager.
Goto Meeting - Goto Meeting is a web conferencing application that enables us share our screen with people in different locations. Rather than sending multiple emails back and forth, sometimes a quick screen share will answer questions faster.
What were the benefits of using these technologies?
Less Stress - Not worrying that something important landed in spam or that you are forgetting something in your giant piles of email.
More effective - Having everything you need to know at a glance is pretty helpful and saves setup time when you get to work on a project.
Better collaboration - By working with multiple people rather than one, it enables better collaboration on projects and faster turnaround.
Hit by the bus factor - If most of your communication lies with one person, they are almost the only person who knows your complete story. By sharing the correspondence and status of all deliverables any one of our project managers will be able to help you with what you need.
Moving forward in 2016
Our goal for 2016 is to simplify the use of email to that of a notification system that sends us to the right space to collaborate on the topic at hand.
Less time wasted in email means more time spent getting things done which equals time and money saved for everyone!