In reality, I reckon most people are handed the keys to an Outlook Exchange Mailbox and left to it… What could possibly go wrong?
The thing you find in many organisations is that the WORST aspects of email behaviour are often exaggerated and repeated throughout a department (once they get a foothold). It just takes a single person in the group to exercise some poor email etiquette, and before long, everyone is doing it. Backstabbing BCCs; Longwinded conversations masquerading as decisions; Passive aggressive political manoeuvrings. They all rise to the top. Ughh!
The thing that really gets me about email is the way so many perfectly sane people try to use it as a jack-of-all-trades substitute for things that could be done so much better by something, ANYTHING else.
Email is: A task list; A Priorities list; An archive; A discussion area; A decision making forum; A spec list; A brief… But at the same time it is still that ever-so-slightly formal and stilted digital letter. Arghhh!
It also beggars belief when it is used by members of the same team in the same room to communicate things that surely any living, breathing human would just SAY OUT LOUD?
For the designers among us, this is the worst aspect of modern email. If you lose the basics of face-to-face communication, creative feedback and the ability to discuss ideas and ask for inspiration among a team, what have you got left? Accountants?
Do you really need a half-arsed, piss-poor record of every minutiae of a project that email provides? Isn’t a sign-off and proofing process enough to keep track of a creative project?
If something major alters in a job, by all means email that change, but also put that information in a shared project folder. What good is it when you are trying to piece together decisions from email discussions involving people who have long since left the company? So why ever rely on it? Is it just an excuse to continue to maintain a vast and controlling IT infrastructure and department? Do you think you can coveryour back in a dispute by dredging up all these communications? (although it seems to me any company called on to explain a decision via email records is throwing the hard drives from cliff quicker than you can say “we don’t keep email records longer than erm, a week… your honour.”)
And what worries me is the next generation of “creatives” that will be surrounded by modern email practices. They will never know a time BEFORE badly handled email. They will never be unafraid to have off-the-cuff conversations and critical discussions about a project. Email just can’t replace a genuine air of creativity and discussion that should always exist in the best teams.
What gives us hope is the dawn of new methods of communication that embrace the social and mobile world we live in.
Modern intranet tools (for want of a better word) like Igloo software that try to mimic and integrate with Twitter, Facebook, Email, Calendars and Project Management tools… then twist it in to something quite possibly GOOD! It may not work, it may sound a bit hipster… but it can’t be any worse than the last 15 years of email as a “substitute for everything” tool of the damned.
As an aside…
When I first started working in a company that had a big connected network in the 90’s, we all used the mighty “Winpop” to send quick messages to other team members and between departments. These were short, efficient instant messages that led to discussions that were then written down in stone and emailed (or saved in the project folder). There was a nice delineation between email and messaging that meant that conversations and opinions could be separated from formal email communications. It sounded like it should be terrible, but by gosh it worked really well!
Ahead of its time (if it weren’t for the terrible interface and windows only operation!) All killed off by the juggernaut that email became…