Where I work, we do not take e-mail as seriously as perhaps we should. The results are the usual misunderstandings and conflicts that may stem from unclear or misunderstood e-mails. But then again, how is it possible to take e-mail really seriously? The enormous amount of e-mails that many of us receive is ridiculous. For some, it is so bad that vacations are dreaded, as the return to work inevitably means days of reading, reflecting upon and answering all the e-mails that arrived while being away. True, it is nowadays possible to read e-mail while being out of the office, but it is not much of a vacation in that case. The number of e-mails received and sent is staggering. It is just too easy to send an e-mail.
What kind of - mostly undesirable - e-mails do we get where I work? Well, first of all, let's forget the spam, those mass mailings unrelated to business activities. We actually have a pretty efficient firewall that blocks spam and consequently our ability to stay updated about the latest "nude pictures" of Britney Spears, the new liquid forms of Viagra, how to make debts disappear, become rich without having to work and everything else that these e-mails inform us about. There is even spam that suggests - for a fee of course - solutions that will stop spam from arriving.
Even without spam, the load of "normal" work related e-mails is often bad enough. First of all, they include the kind sent by people who use it excessively in order to delegate work to others. For this purpose, e-mail is perfect. By sending an e-mail, you avoid risking any heated face-to-face discussions about who should do what. Just send the e-mail, and if the requested work does not get done, you insist that it was all clearly explained "in the e-mail". As you can see, this excuse about something being "in the post" is now modernised and works well for things other than cheques or money. New and modern times certainly demand new and imaginative excuses, which nevertheless can still be about stuff being in the post.
Another common and "perfect" use of e-mail is to inform any and everybody about what is being done. This way the responsibility for a given task is spread, as everyone knew about what was going on - very convenient if things go wrong as more people can be blamed. The "cc" line in the header of any e-mail program is a real gift to many e-mailers.
The third kind of e-mail we get from colleagues that does not make anyone happy includes the strictly incomprehensible or those that simply do not add anything useful to the business. If you do not know how to write, e-mail is not going to be the solution just because it is easy to send. And no one really needs e-mails at work saying that lunch made you sick because you had too much of that pink shellfish sauce with the lasagne.
The real professionals send their e-mails with a returning confirmation once the recipient has opened it. This allows the sender to claim that the e-mail was actually read by the recipient. However, the result is that people often do not open e-mail so they can claim that it was not received/seen/read/paid attention to. All to avoid the potential trouble that a non-solicited e-mail may bring along. I mean, who wants to become accountable just by having read an e-mail? Thanks to e-mail, true ignorance becomes a compelling method to avoid being held accountable for other people's stupidities and mistakes at work.
E-mail has become like the telephone, a social phenomenon that is used for all kinds of contacts. Its usage extends well beyond work, unlike the fax that has stayed much more work-related. This also means that e-mail somewhat loses its seriousness as a work tool, especially when you can add a little video showing a monkey falling off a branch, someone farting on a date or whatever. The fact that most companies have started to restrict e-mail usage at work clearly shows that they have understood that showing your colleagues falling monkeys or farting dudes is not really considered as a productive use of e-mail. Too much of the good can be really fun but not necessarily in the interest of your company.
So, what do we do when we have some really important stuff to send, given that e-mail has somewhat lost its seriousness? Easy. We do what we have always done. We use regular snail-mail. If whatever we send is already printed on paper and comes in an envelope, it gets more attention. Especially if there is some color to it. And the interesting thing is that printing a letter and putting it into an envelope puts people off. Many simply think that this is too much work - usually the same people who delegate and cover their backs via e-mail.
E-mail certainly has its advantages. Just do not expect too much from the receiver who might be very weary of getting e-mails. Which in any case is rather normal considering the enormous amount of it that he or she may get. Too much of a good thing is just not serious.
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