Improving or transforming email has been a trendy topic for at least 10 years. Improving or transforming, because it looks clear that it’s not going to be replaced even if some businesses managed to change its purpose and the way it was used.
Email is the “least worst of all tools”
As a matter of fact, email is the “least worst” of all the technologies we have at our disposal to communicate. Its main qualities are, in fact, also its main defect.
â€¢ Everybody has one
â€¢ It relies on a single standard while enterprise social networks only allow to interact within them and are not interoperable.
â€¢ It’s multi-client and multi-device, unlike many enterprise solutions that may be old but are still very present in the workplace.
â€¢ It’s both synchronous and asynchronous.
â€¢ It can be used to share information, manage tasks, store and share documents.
I’m not saying all of the above-mentioned use-cases are good or relevant, the reverse often being the case. But, that’s precisely because email is everywhere, anytime and allows anything that it’s used for anything and often to do whatever people want in a terrible way.
Since email is everywhere it’s used to do whatever people want in a terrible way
“Whatever people want” means using email for things it’s not been designed for. I won’t elaborate more on this matter since I believe that the case against email has already been built over the last decade.
“Whatever people want” also refers to what I call digital politeness. In other words, email is used in behaviors people would never dare having if they were face to face. Examples are numerous : violence and rudeness in conversations, lack of formal salutation the the one who receives email (most of times a subordinate or provider) feels like he’s being slapped at every message. There’s also the chosen vs suffered connectedness.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Mettling (Orange’s CHRO) issued a report (, in french) on the impact of digital on work. The most commented point was the right do disconnect. It’s sad that all the media focussed on this point while there were a lot of other interesting stuff in the report but, since where there, let’s dig a little further.
The right to disconnect is not a technology issue
Behind the right to disconnect lies the need to withdraw from the pressure and demands from one’s work environment. Even if we agree that that’s not because one receives an email than one should answer immediately, reality is different. There are people who feel guilty naturally even if the sender does not expect an immediate response and there are people who make others feel guilty : emails comes with a form of managerial pressure that can be real or imaginary but that’s felt by receivers. As a matter of fact I consider it’s more about managerial pressure than peers pressure since it’s easier to put an email on hold when it comes from a subordinate or a colleague than from a superior. Most of the pressure is a descending one.
So there are people who choose to be connected and those who are forced so and suffer it. The right to disconnect is all about the receiver but I consider it’s also a matter of educating the sender.
If you wouldn’t call this person at this time, don’t send an email
Regarding to late emails, I have one rule I suggest anyone to adopt. If, at a given moment, you wouldn’t pick up your phone to disturb someone, don’t send an email. Moreover, if it’s so important, a call is better than an email. But sometimes sending a late email is the only possible way if one don’t want to complicate his work.
How many times did we processed our emails late at night and send nightly emails people receive at a time they should not be working and wonder if they should deal with it or not ? It happens ver often even if we don’t even expect or want the receiver to react before the day after or the end of the week end.
Of course we can add [Don’t respond right now] in the title but the only fact the receiver sees the message is already an issue.
I’ve had this conversation with many people and you can’t imagine how many are uncomfortable with this situation. We have to send the email (either because we’ve had a busy day before or because we won’t have time the day after in the morning or even because we’re on different time zones) because the contexts forces us to do so but we’d like to respect the receiver’s context, which is not ours.
A simple button to reconciliate the sender and receiver’s “email context”
Better than prohibiting or ruling wrongly, many told me that a single functionality would be enough to please everyone, to take into account and respect the sender’s context and the receiver’s one, allowing the one to work at his pace without bothering the other : delaying the email posting.
“I’d like to be able to send an email at the time I’m mass-processing my inbox, often late, but I would like it to be posted the morning after or at the end of the week end to not bother others and make them feel I’m expecting an immediate response, what is not the case”.
There are many initiatives, products, rules to get rid of the dark side of emails but, in the end, the best solution seems to be a simple single functionality. And it would solve a really big problem.