I recently read that Brits receive an average of 36 emails every day but a third is never read. I wasn't surprised. Some emails can become outdated almost instantly, especially as the modern workplace sees projects evolve and change constantly and thus the updates/requests/questions that accompany them change and evolve at the same time.
The One Poll research found that the average office worker spends over 21 minutes a day searching for information they've seen but can't find. Worked out at two whole working weeks per year, this was said to be costing UK firms £1,248.51 per employee each year.
This helps demonstrate and quantify the damage email overload can have on a business. It also adds an extra bit of weight to a long held belief of mine that email, while a critical part of how we communicate with colleagues is not the most efficient way to capture project-related communication.
For the most part, we feel safe in the knowledge that we can prioritise the emails that are critical and demand attention while relegating the others until we have more time. If this latest research is to be believed, it's not always possible to find that time.
There is no doubt that face-to-face communication is king but in the context of capturing work-related communication to facilitate collaboration or create an audit trail, it too has a few weaknesses. Who can remember every detail about that great idea from the water cooler chat or who it was that worked on a specific project?
So what is the answer? An in-depth Forrester survey commission by AtTask found that the majority of knowledge workers see the potential value of infusing social networking techniques in the workplace. I don't believe it's possible to abandon email as a communication medium.
After all, its 40 years old and we're still using it. But social networking tools should not be underestimated. Their intuitive nature, which has seen staff train themselves using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc, can also allow for real-time working that is more in line with the day and age we are in.
The way we work is changing. Generation-Y want collaborative work spaces and access to the latest and fastest technologies, preferring tools and equipment where they can share, comment and collaborate as equals. The advantages of new tools and management methods are also beginning to be realised across the knowledge worker spectrum.
A significant part of a person's work life consists of managing requests from peers, multiple bosses and small, unstructured projects that arise. This is not something that can be effectively managed by email alone. Getting rid of email may not be practical or possible, but we can't ignore the way social media encourages collaboration and facilitates meaning dialog.