Email Communication: Advantages, Disadvantages, and Best Practices
Email remains one of the main means of communication in the world. The first email was sent on the Arpanet network in 1971, and by 2023, more than 4.2 billion people were using it (source: constantcontact.com). Despite its widespread use, email is now being questioned for some of its drawbacks.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of email communication? And more importantly, what are the best practices to improve our use of email and, most of all, our communication with others?
Table of contents:
- 7 Advantages of Email Communication
- 9 Disadvantages of Email Communication
- When to Use Email, Instant Messaging, or Phone
- 7 Best Practices for a Better Use of Email
- Q&A Section
We cannot deny that email communication has its advantages, or else it would not be one of the main means of communication.
- Instant Communication: Email allows fast messaging to anyone, anytime, anywhere. It's quick and efficient.
- Efficient and (somehow) organized: Email enables communication with multiple recipients simultaneously and offers features like flags, folders, and search options that help you prioritize messages.
- Documentation: Email serves as a reliable documentation tool. It records important conversations and exchanges, providing a trail of communication history.
- Global Connectivity: Email breaks down geographical barriers and allows communication with people worldwide.
- Cost-Effective: Email is a cost-effective communication method, sometimes even included for free in packages from Internet Providers or some SaaS companies.
- Attachment Sharing: Email allows easy sharing of various file types as attachments. This simplifies collaboration and makes information sharing efficient.
- Scheduling and Reminders: Emails often include features that enable scheduling and reminders. You can use email calendars to schedule meetings, set up reminders for important events, or send automated follow-up emails. These features help you manage your time effectively.
Every bright thing has a dark side. Email communication has significant disadvantages and limitations.
- Information Overload: Emails can quickly accumulate, overwhelming your inbox and causing information overload. Sorting through numerous messages can be time-consuming and may lead to important messages being overlooked.
- Confusing endless email threads: Email threads can become difficult to follow when there are too many participants, CCs, BCCs, and important information being lost. If you skip an email or answer at the same time as someone else, discussions can become chaotic, and nobody takes real decisions or actions.
- Loss of information: Email might be useful to record important conversations and exchanges, but finding them can be a tough task. Sometimes, information gets lost in messages and attachments get mixed up with multiple versions of the same document. Additionally, some colleagues may download attachments to edit them on the side, further complicating things.
- Potential for Miscommunication: Written communication, especially in email, can sometimes lack clarity and context. Without the ability to gauge tone or observe body language, misunderstandings can occur.
- Lack of Personal Touch: One of the biggest disadvantages of email communication is the absence of non-verbal cues and emotions. Tone and intent can be easily misinterpreted, leading to misunderstandings or conflicts.
- Lack of Immediate Response: While email allows for asynchronous communication, it also means that responses may not be immediate. If you require urgent information or need real-time feedback, relying solely on email communication may result in delays. In such cases, instant messaging or phone calls may be more appropriate.
- Irrelevant emails & SPAMS: An email address is a door to the outside of your organization. Email addresses can quickly be shared with other companies, websites or social media platforms. As a result, you receive unwanted emails, prospecting emails, newsletters, and spam messages. On top of all the notifications emails you already receive…
- Security Risks: Emails can be vulnerable to security breaches, such as hacking or phishing attempts. Sensitive information shared through emails may be at risk, making it crucial to exercise caution and use encryption methods when necessary. Being vigilant about suspicious emails, avoiding clicking on unknown links, and using strong passwords can help mitigate security risks.
- Drop of productivity: Reading emails and notifications can be major distractions that significantly reduce your productivity. We are always tempted to look at those notifications, but then we get lost in email responses and need several minutes to regain the same focus we had before.
We have all hesitated to use a particular tool to send our message. This has sometimes led to complex and lengthy exchanges, resulting in misunderstandings or complete inertia.
Let’s it break down!
According to European researcher Bettina Buechel, choosing the best communication tool requires balancing richness (real-time communication with multiple cues) and scope (consistent delivery of the message across time and space). Buechel's matrix makes it easy to select the most appropriate tool for the job.
High richness/low scope: When stakes are high, it is crucial to avoid misunderstandings. Communication should involve as many verbal, vocal, and visual cues as possible, along with real-time communication. This is particularly significant when there are emotions involved, such as stress.
Medium richness/medium scope: It is important to ensure that questions are answered and that the entire team has access to the latest and most accurate information, which can be recorded or referred to later. Tools such as file sharing, note-taking, and wikis provide richer functionality compared to simple emails, allowing for seamless revision updates and feedback.
Low richness/high scope: Email has a bad reputation. But when you need to communicate a simple message quickly, consistently, and across the entire group, it became a great solution.
3 Atolia’s guidelines
According to the Buechel’s matrix but also our own experiences as a team and with our customers, we suggest you 3 simple guidelines :
- Use Email for legal or contractual communication. Email provides a documented record of the conversation. It is also useful to contact people outside of your organization.
- Opt for Instant Messaging for quick and informal conversations, especially when immediate responses are required.
- Reserve Phone or Video Calls for urgent matters, sensitive discussions, or when complex issues need to be addressed in real-time. Video calls allow for immediate feedback, clarification, and the ability to convey emotions through voice tone & visual cues.
- Clear and Concise Subject Lines: Craft subject lines that accurately reflect the content of your email and entice the recipient to open it. Keep them brief and specific to grab attention and improve open rates.
- Use Professional Tone and Language: Maintain a professional tone throughout your email, using clear and concise language. Avoid using jargon or acronyms that may not be familiar to all recipients.
- Keep Emails Brief and Relevant: Avoid lengthy emails that may lose the recipient's interest. Focus on the main points and provide relevant information, using bullet points or paragraphs to structure your message for easy readability.
- Bring your discussions to actions: At the end of your emails, add one question to encourage readers to answer, take a decision, book a meeting date…. Try to have only one question, to be clearer about your intentions and improve your answer rate.
- The “5 emails rule”: If the conversation reaches more than 5 emails, stop sending more emails and call the people involved. If you don’t, the conversation may lead to a confusing and endless thread…
- Do not CC the whole world into your emails: If you need quick and clear answers, do not copy all your company into your email. Select one to five team members only. But of course, some announcements need to be sent to a whole team or the whole company… if possible prefer using a digital workspace or an intranet for these kinds of news.
- Don’t share attachments: Prefer to share links to documents that are stored in secured places. It allows you to block access to the file when needed and to keep a single source and avoid copy. By the way, your emails will be lighter and will consume a bit less of bandwidth and CO2.
Will email die?
Is email communication still relevant in the age of instant messaging?Email continues to be a widely used and accepted communication method for formal and professional conversations. It offers benefits such as documentation, organization, and the ability to reach a broader audience.
How can I reduce email overload?
To manage email overload, first consider whether it is better to send an email, make a phone call, or send a direct message to the person. Then, establish a regular inbox cleanup routine, unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters, use filters and folders to prioritize messages, and consider using productivity tools that help manage your inbox efficiently.
Are there any security measures I should take when using email?
Yes, it's important to prioritize email security. Use strong and unique passwords, be cautious of suspicious emails and attachments, avoid clicking on unknown links, and consider using encryption methods when sharing sensitive information.
What are some effective ways to ensure clarity in email communication?
To ensure clarity in email communication, use clear and concise language, structure your message with paragraphs and headings, proofread before sending, and consider using bullet points or numbered lists to make your email more scannable.
Can email be used for sensitive or confidential information?
While email is commonly used for communication, it may not be the most secure method for sharing sensitive or confidential information. If possible, use encrypted email services or consider using more secure communication channels, such as encrypted messaging platforms or secure file-sharing services.
How can I avoid misinterpretation in email communication?
To avoid misinterpretation, be mindful of your choice of words, provide clear context, use appropriate tone markers (e.g., using "thank you" to express gratitude), and consider requesting confirmation or feedback to ensure understanding.
Is it better to email or call?
Use Email to record legal or contractual information or to communicate with your customers, suppliers or partners. Use phone or video calls for urgent topics or complex discussions.
Why is email preferred to a chat?
Email is a preferred communication mode for legal or contractual information and for contacting people outside of your organization.
Instant messaging is a better option when you need quick and informal conversations with immediate responses.
Is email the best way to communicate?
No, it's not. Neither is instant messaging nor calling. These are just options. Each of them fits different situations, depending mostly on the urgency and complexity of the matter, as well as the number of people involved and the need for a record. For more information, refer to the previous section "When to Use Email, Instant Messaging, or Phone:".
When should you avoid email?
Whether or not you use email frequently depends on your job and industry. However, in most cases, it is best to avoid email or at least limit its use to a minimum to better organize your communication and to get faster answers.As a Marketer at Atolia, I have utilized the Atolia app and best practices for communication and meetings to drastically reduce the number of emails I receive. Currently, I only receive 50 emails per week and send around 5 emails per week.
What is the CO2 footprint of an email?
In his book "How Bad Are Bananas?", Mike Berners-Lee discusses the environmental impact of almost everything, including emails. He estimated that an average email emits 4 grams of CO2, while an SMS emits only 0.014 grams of CO2. The difference is due to the use of different technology infrastructures and the size of messages. Instant messaging likely has a carbon footprint closer to that of email than SMS due to its use of internet networks. (Source: Youmatter.world)
Source: More statistics about emails