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Is IM undervalued for reducing email overload?

Posted Thursday September 20th, 2012, 11:47 am by

Can Instant Messaging (IM)  help to significantly reduce email overload?  Over the last few months I’ve been working remotely with a client and using their IM  in earnest (via Microsoft Communicator).  I was able to catch up with colleagues on business and social matters quickly and without ending up with an inbox full of redundant email chains.

At one point urgent help was needed from a colleague whose status was ‘busy’.  A quick message and back came the necessary data with a note that all the other matters  would need to wait until our planned conference call later that week.  Still the vital data was supplied and work could progress.

Would the same have happened with email?  No, as he is a strict disciple of the ‘stay focused’ management school.  His new email alerts are off and he only checks his inbox every couple of hour or so.  He works on the basis that if it is urgent someone will either call or send him an IM.

Email has been around for just over 30 years and is now seen by many as the default communications channel.  But is it really that useful for all electronic communications?  Mimecast found only about 30% of emails received are read.  Meanwhile the Grossman Group found that middle managers are overwhelmed by email and often spend long hours outside work catching up with their email.  But what are all these emails they feel they must read or at least spend time deleting)?  We and Grossman found that about 25 to 30% are indeed trivial often either chains (ongoing conversations) or about subjects that are no longer relevant (eg fire alarm is being tested at 11.00am).

Email is but one of a  range of communications channels (from face-to-face meetings to text messaging).  Is it time to start thinking through how we can use alternatives to email firstly to communicate more efficiently and hence secondly reduce the email overload which is crippling many people and their businesses?  Have you checked recently how much time you and your business are loosing through unnecessary (internal junk) email?


For me IM is hugely undervalued as a communications tools.  If I were CEO of an organisation (no matter what size) I would not ban email internally as some have done but would implement an IM policy.

All message which do not need to be retained and are time sensitive should be sent by IM and not email as per this matrix.

Are you using any form of  social media and IM to reduce the volume of email traffic and improve communications? Click here to participate in our new survey.



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