Email Alternatives

Email is easy.  It gives you a written record of your communication.  It works great in an asynchronous environment. It is almost instantaneous.

And it so convenient that you can actually forget that you have other communication tools in your toolbox.

But email is not always the best communication choice.  It lacks nuance.  It does a bad job conveying humor. And it is easily misinterpreted.

The next time you need to communicate more than just information, try a richer communication tool.  You will save yourself time and get better results.

 – Barbara Ivey

How quickly to respond to email?

This question came up with a team I worked with recently. My answer was that it depends on the culture of the organization.

Senior members of organization usually set the email response bar. If the VP is an “Email at 4 a.m.” person, the team culture reflects that in various ways.

But my clients were seeing the opposite. Some of their younger team members actually expected to hear back on email quicker than the VP.

Why? Well, likely because they are Digital Natives. Digital Natives are the generation who grew up on the web. To them, an unanswered email is like a blank stare. Crickets singing to the empty night.

In Trust Agents, authors / bloggers Chris Brogan and Julien Smith provide insight into the Digital Native’s world. Digital Natives expect prompt responses to email, blog postings, Facebook, you name it. No matter how small, they want to hear back. And they expect apologies for slow responses. A quick “I’ll get back to you” response to a Digital Native confirms the message was received – and often is enough of a response for now.

However, not all senior organization members can or will work like this.

One solution to reconcile differing email expectations is response time management. Senior leaders let the team know that unless an email or voicemail is flagged as urgent, they typically expect a response within X# hours. They can also share that they check email X# times per day to set team expectations about when their email will be read. This empowers team members to manage their time better. With this knowledge, they may choose to invest their prime work time in key client facing work and work on team collaboration at other times.

As teams reclaim time for high priority work, expectation setting is a great tool to enhance collaboration.