We all know the feeling of returning to work after a holiday to find a mountain of emails waiting for us. I always have a nagging feeling that I need to get to grips with my emails before I can start with the “real work” that I have in front of me.
My colleague Beth recently blogged about the recent review of our Randomised Coffee Trials, which pair people randomly to discuss the topic of their choice.
Alongside that, I’ve been taking part in LocalGovDigital’s Unmentoring, which is their version of Randomised Coffee Trials. In my latest discussion I had the chance to see if email really is a help or a hindrance by catching up with Lee Mallon of Rarely Impossible, who have ditched email for all internal correspondence.
Why chat about email?
Email has some issues, and a lot of that is down to behaviour. Whether it’s sending unsolicited emails or a dodgy use of the cc function to justify a sense of importance (check out Chris Bolton’s series of posts on bad email practice), a lot of the problems that come with email are down to us as users. The latest Natter On podcast gives a good account of both sides of the Email: good vs bad debate.
Another issue with email is that it tends to focus on work that specific individuals do rather than teams. That’s where tools like Slack can potentially help, as the format encourages people to work in teams. Tools like Trello can also help – why don’t we just log in and check the current state of play instead of sending a long series of email updates?
That’s not to say that changing the means of discussion is an answer in itself. Adopting a new tool comes with its own issues. People may not be particularly happy about having another source of communication to check, and an informal work tool like Slack (which comes with Emojis and GIFs) may be an anathema to some organisations’ working culture.
But if society is changing, and people’s expectations of public services are changing, do we as public service providers need to change too? A lot has already been written about how we can’t continue to communicate in the same way when using social media (including Helen Reynolds’ great post on psychopathy and social media). Can we really connect with communities when our day-to-day staff communications are inherently different? There are already signs that young people are choosing to communicate through apps instead of email.
What are Rarely Impossible doing?
I found my conversation with Lee really valuable. Not only was he happy to share his experiences over the phone, but he was also happy to share resources afterwards. It was fascinating to hear about the channels they were working through after 6 months, and their “1 year on post” is a fantastic “How to guide” for reducing your reliance on email.
And in case you think that it’s one thing for a private company to go email free and quite another for a public service, check out the work that’s taking place at Halton Housing.
Although email is our current default means of online office communication, we’re in a fascinating time where new tools are being developed all the time. If your organisation is thinking of ditching email, we’d love to hear from you so that we can share the learning from your experiences and whether it’s helping you to deliver better public services.