Monica looks back on an impressive 30 years in business – come with us as we take a journey through our history and all we’ve achieved.
1989 what happened that year?
1989 was the year the Berlin Wall fell, the first GPS satellites were launched, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, ‘The Simpsons’ debuted, Daniel Radcliffe and Taylor Swift were born, and I launched Mesmo Consultancy! Email had been invented by Ray Tomlinson (in 1971) – although like the world wide web, it was just a dot on the horizon because of the lack of user friendly hardware.
My career and work experience has always positioned me as the middle-man between the IT Department and the ‘end user’ trying to help them to learn how to use technology to improve their personal and business performance. This was pre user-friendly computers and software.
In 1993 sponsored by my client PA Consulting, I conducted an in-depth study of one hundred main board executives to establish some models and guidelines on how they could improve the bottom-line of their organisations by using personal computers. This was a time when a PC could easily take up your full airline cabin bag weight allowance. Battery life was about 30 minutes, the Blackberry had just been invented but mobile devices as we know them were still about six years away. Not everyone had access to email and even if they did, they often did not deal with it themselves. Indeed in some organisations you had to be a certain level to have your own email account. The results of the study were the basis of my PhD and my first book ‘Using the PC to Boost Executive Performance’.
In the 1990’s, executives were already complaining about how much email they received and how much time they had to spend trawling through it to find the items of importance.
However, many left their PAs to deal with email. So few executives had any idea how much time their staff were actually wasting dealing with the inbox and how it was rapidly overtaking the in-tray as their main focus. While on a contract to a major Government Department, I spent many months trying to explain this to a Permanent Secretary who said this was nonsense. He changed his mind when a train strike left him working at home and he saw the hundreds of trivial emails in his inbox. My life as an email management consultant and the ‘EmailDoctor’ began with a call from his Special Private Secretary (SPS) who said they wanted me in the office at 8.30 the next morning. I was told to ‘solve the problem of email misuse’. The rest is history, three books and hundreds of articles later.
Email Management – what has changed over 20 years?
But what has changed about how we deal with email? I trawled back through nearly twenty years worth of articles specifically on email management which included five years as The Times ‘Crème’ columnist, Director Magazine IT user columnist; Huffington Post; etc. Several key themes can be identified and in particular how to:
Perhaps the last is one of the most interesting. On the one hand you have the up and coming generation of Millenials who are so technology focused that they feel it’s ‘job done’ by hitting send, and are often the most reluctant to walk and talk. Furthermore the shorter the message the better. I agree with this, but short does not always mean unequivocal and especially to a generation of who are not digital natives of which there are still many at the top of the organisation.
Although letters are still written, for many an e-communication (email or text) is now a binding business communication and so the tone and wording is important to convey the correct image of the organisation. A constant plea from senior management is therefore to educate new joiners how to write professional emails which reflect the organisations values and culture.
What new trends have emerged over the last twenty years?
The same themes are still present even now in 2019 with some even more pronounced. For example we now receive on average 121 emails per day compared to 77 in 2003. Those who are digital natives and find technology easy to use, still do not appreciate that for many, despite the suppliers claims, it is not intuitive. This makes finding budgets for email management and email software (eg Outlook) training hard. Even today, less than 50% of Outlook’s time saving features are used by the average user (eg Rules, Quick Parts and Quick Steps).
Interestingly, we think the fax is dead but it is still used and especially in the medical profession! On top of these, six new challenges have emerged relating specifically to email management:
i. Cyber crime
ii. Data protection and GDPR
iii. Social media
iv. Collaborative tools
v. 24x7x365 work ethos
vi. Impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability
i) Cyber crime was barely given a mention until the late 1980s and then only in passing. Now not a day passes without at least three cyber crime related stories/blog being published.
ii) Data protection was always an issue but organisations were not quite so obsessed about it. Not surprisingly, with the FOI, GDP and continued instances of hacking, most organisations now have a very heightened awareness of the need to be compliant and protect their most valuable asset – data.
iii) Social media wasn’t even born thirty years ago. If you wanted the latest news and gossip, it was garnered from a conversation around the coffee vending machine, photocopier, landline telephone chats or lunch outside the office. The loss of the art of conversation is perhaps one things which greatly saddens me . Especially when you hear of suicides caused by social media bullying.
iv) Collaborative tools are now seen as a way to reduce email overload but it still takes time to read the electronic notice board. If you elect for electronic updates then these of course often arrive by email!
v) 24x7x365 work ethos. Yes we worked just as hard thirty years ago but it was much easier to switch off and leave your work behind you when out of the office or on holiday. Constantly being in communication, is a 21st Century disease which is giving rise to concerns about our well-being and life-work balance. These are words which never existed in the board’s vocabulary until the last decade.
vi) Impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability. Several studies have now found that constantly being distracted by email (or social media) is significantly reducing our powers of concentration and thinking to that of a three year old child.
Good, bad or indifferent
I have been very privileged to work during the ‘white hot revolution of technology’ to borrow the late Sir Harold Wilson’s words. They have been and will no doubt continue to be exciting times. I love working with young people who tell me about the latest app or hardware device. Such things still excite and amaze me. During my journey over the last thirty years I’ve met some amazing people and made many friends. However, with the exception of the impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability, most of the problems related to email look just like new wine in old bottles but with fancy labels. For how much longer are we going to be slaves to our inboxes rather than the other way around?
Or have I been in the business so long that mine is a biased cynical view? What is your view about how technology has changed our working lives over the last thirty years (for better or worse)? Let us know on our social media channels!
How can you safeguarding your organisation from the risks of such email fiascos? One easy way is to invite Mesmo Consultancy to run an email management and business email etiquette masterclass.
Five years ago the CBI complained school leaver’s low level of literacy skills. More recently poor English skills have been cited as more damaging to business than the digital divide. Poorly structured emails, and especially long rambling ones remain the bane of many people’s lives and particularly those who pick up their emails on mobile devices and/or suffering from chronic email overload.
‘Pen your Email in Simple Language’ is the seventh commandment of our Smart Email Management charter but clearly an aspect of email etiquette which is frequently ignored. Yet it save times and reduces the potential for misunderstanding. If you do not receive a response to an email, it is often not so much because the recipient is busy but because you have written it poorly.
George Orwell laid out six rules for effective writing, which have served many authors.
These rules are as relevant now as when he wrote them over sixty years ago. In the digital age I add a seventh rule – start an email with a one sentence executive summary of what the email is about and what action is expected.
What email etiquette tips can you offer for ensuring you send the right message right first time by penning your email in plain language?
Reputational damage always follows a major cyber crime hack. It was only a matter of time before we saw the real fall out from the recent Sony hacking
offensive, in terms of the damage to personal reputations (and possibly still the business’s reputation). Today is the start, with Amy Pascal feeling she should resign. It has always been my view that Barclays Bank Libor emails cost the bank and its management team more in reputational damage than the actual fine. They slipped out of the top 100 most trusted companies. Had the press not found those damaging emails, they would not have been the focus of such media attention. After all many other banks were in a similar position.
An unprecedented hack as happened to Sony will be forgiven, but not the vitriolic emails which show the company management culture is such disarray.
The moral is of course to think, think and think again before hitting send. Ask yourself. ‘what if a hacker found this email’. If you really cannot manage your impulsive behaviour then the solution is slow email and set a rule to delay sending all your email by a few minutes to allow for cooling off.
How well are you managing to reduce the risk to you and your business becoming the stars of the next email-gate media disaster? Contact us now to hear how we have helped other organisations protect their professional image by more effective email management.
Would you like to start the year with a clean inbox and learn how to keep it clean and reduce email overload? Join Mesmo Consultancy for the 7th International Clean Out Your Inbox week January 20 to 24. This year the email babes (Marsha Egan and myself) are thrilled to be joined by Steuart Snooks, Australia’s leading email management expert.We have created a dedicated Facebook page from which you will be able to access lots of new materials (from tips and hints to interviews with other leading email management experts). This is in addition to the daily blogs and Twitter tips to help you each day.
Click here to join our Facebook page and Like us please.
Follow me on Twitter (as Emaildoctor) using #cleaninbox.
More details to follow next week. Meanwhile, happy new year and thank you for your support during 2013. It was much appreciated. We look forward to seeing you in 2014.