Email, hamsters and bottlenecks


A few weeks ago, I was a part of a panel intiatied by Yann Gourvennec,  with Vincent Berthelot and Emilie Ogez. At the beginning there was a book , The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before It Manages You that caught Yann’s attention. So he gathered a few “experts” in order to discuss some of the traditional email related issues. I’m not sure sharing the video is very useful since it’s all in French without subtitles, but I’ll take advantage of it to explain some of my thoughts, what we said and what we didn’t say..

So let’s start.

What do I retain from this panel

Of course, email is not dead. And if such a thing would happen I think we’d be in big troubles. In fact that is not the tool, which is very useful, that is concerned but rather how we use it. When it’s used for purposes it’s not been designed for it quickly becomes counter-productive.

Yes,, email is useful to spread information to many people, provided no answer is expected. In this case, when there are more than 3 people, conversations become impossible to follow, inaudible, and the diffusion tool becomes a dizorganisation tool.

What about social medias ? They have their own field than sometimes overlaps the email’s. In fact, the more email is used for what it’s not made for, the more it can be replaced by social software. Moreover, email is the favorite alert tool for social tools. I’ll tackle that later…

But email as a to do list, as a delegation tool (or even a kick in touch tool… “I forward something to you and it becomes your problem”), as a discussion tool (ahhhh…”reply all” with 200 people in copy), as a suggesiton tool (I send you a mail on sunday…I don’t tell you to treat it but you can feel guilty if you don’t…)…. is definitely not a relevant tool.

What we didn’t talk about

That’s the consequence of the above mentioned point. When people talk about getting rid of email, they don’t point at the tool but at irrelevant management and organization models which consequences can be seen through the (bad) uses of email. This is not a matter of tool but, once again, a matter of usages. That’s what makes me skeptical about operations like “no emaim fridays” : they arbitrarily remove the conquence for a given time without treating the true cause. That’s like breaking the thermometer to lower the temperature.

Second point, the email case if often considered as an individual problematic. It’s an individual issue that as to be managed individually. Senders have to send more wisely, and receivers have to manager their emails and time better. But the collective dimension has to be addressed too. Email overload creates bottlenecks that slow the whole organisation down. When a manager is submerged by emails, all his staff’s productivity decreases because they rely on him as a decision maker or as a connector.

Last, we tackled the email case considering it was both about the content and the container. As I wrote above, the email is a good alert tool, but it doesn’t have to contain the “substance” : it may contain a brief (140 chars ?) message and a link to an information shared on a social space and accessible to a defined set of people or community. Email for alerts, social platforms for sharing, exchange and capitalization. The best solution ? Maybe the best balance, as for twitter and blogs.

Moreover, we can wonder if the real change toward the email will come, not from social platforms but from internal microblogging tools that are perfectly designed to carry alerts. On this case, email will remain the perfect tool for 1:1 discussions and exchanges with the outside as long as “demilitarized” zones are not implemented between companies and their ecosystem.

There is also another side of email that should desserve more attention : the “human side of email”. The flagrant unpolineteness and lack of respect in email communication, above all between colleagues, is not trivial at all.