One of the turning points for communication in the workplace was the invention of email. Historically it’s been the easiest way to make contact in any business relationship – short, pointed conversations with the teammates you work closest with, or quick messages to people you’re communicating with for the very first time. You could say it changed the way we all work. Since its inception, however, the notion that email is also a good channel for team collaboration is what’s holding us all back.

Email is great for communication, but not collaboration…

Collaboration Best Practices Email Refocusing

Email is an effective means for communication, but when it comes to collaborating with your team on projects and getting work done, it’s a major hindrance to your team’s productivity.

  • Group conversations grow unwieldy too quickly
  • Keeping track of the most current version of an attached document is the modern-era’s needle in a haystack
  • It’s nearly impossible to maintain clarity about what needs to get done, and by whom

At the end of the day, when it comes to collaborating with your team, email wastes A LOT of your time.

Don’t get us wrong, email is not all bad. It’s really effective at quickly and effortlessly communicating with others, but it just doesn’t scale. When it comes to productively working together with your team, it fails to help you get the job done. Here are three reasons why we feel email is killing your productivity.

1. Your email inbox is a lot like quicksand

Collaboration Best Practices Too Much Email

You receive a ton of email each day (yeah, like you didn’t already know that!) – some of it’s important, some actionable, some is SPAM, and some is unavoidably pointless. As a result your mornings go wasted in your attempt to reach inbox-zero. It’s a losing battle. Each time you take a step forward, you take two back. You’ve likely tried all the organizational features your email client has to offer to control your inbox – labels, filters, multiple inboxes, smart inboxes – but at the end of the day, your morning consists of at least an hour of unavoidable email ground-and-pound. You also probably manage emails when you get home at night and even first thing in the morning when you wake up just to keep your head above water. I’m preaching to the choir here, right? The fact is that this is the norm these days and hardly leaves you anytime to get real work done.

Pro-Tip: Use the ‘Four D’s of Decision-Making’ model

According to a article published by Microsoft, of the email you receive:

  • 50% can be deleted or filed
  • 30% can be delegated of completed in less than two minutes
  • 20% can be deferred to your Task List or Calendar to complete later

With this in mind it’s good practice to decide what to do with each and every email you receive – you have 4 choices:

  • Delete it
  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it

2. Your email inbox silos your team’s tacit knowledge

Collaboration Best Practices Searching for Information

Email is regularly used to share and discuss work, but that doesn’t mean its supposed to. Attaching files and documents or linking to them via shared network drives makes for a complete mess. Countless versions of shared files and relevant follow-up conversations are trapped in email inboxes everywhere. Your inbox is a graveyard for valuable tacit knowledge, knowledge that gets buried deeper and deeper every minute of every day. It’s truly criminal.

So, what’s the real problem? Email is a tool that best serves simple communication, not discussion, and certainly not collaboration either. When you send an email asking someone to review your work, the most valuable piece of information being transferred is not the file itself, but the ensuing conversation. Regardless of the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to find this email in your own inbox later, no one else outside of the email thread has the opportunity to benefit from this transfer of knowledge, keeping stakeholders in the dark.

3. Switching context between work and email wastes a lot of time

Collaboration Best Practices Check Email

The rate at which most people check their email is astonishing – it’s practically become a nervous twitch. Just like Pavlov’s dog, your email has you trained incredibly well.

The problem with checking your email so much is that you rarely have a solid block of time to get any real work done. Take into consideration that if you’re actually checking your email 36 times an hour, and it takes 16 minutes to refocus after handling an incoming email, your workday is basically non-existent.

Switching contexts is distracting, if not annoying, and your email is the number one culprit – destroying the focus you need to get your job done well.

Pro-Tip: Practice Timeboxing to increase personal productivity

Thanks to email, staying on track at work is nearly impossible. Timeboxing is a time management technique that limits the time during which a task is accomplished. Start with 25 minute intervals. Work on a task for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, then commit to email for 25 minutes, and finally take another 5 minute break. Repeat. Focus. Flourish.

If 25 minutes sounds like a lot of email time, it sure beats checking your email 36 times in a single hour. At least with Timeboxing you can put all of your energy both into your work and email respectively.

There’s a better way to collaborate

We’ve outlined the major problems with using email to collaborate with your team, and even provided a few tips to help avoid the daily snags of collaborative emailing, but these are just simple workarounds. They don’t necessarily get at the core of your problems, which is that email is not the best solution for team collaboration.

Confluence, proven team collaboration software, connects teams with the content and co-workers they need to get work done, faster.

Connect your team with @mentions

Email inherently pushes information to others, creating silos of tacit knowledge. Confluence @mentions change the way you share work by pulling teammates into work they have a stake in, in one place online where the ensuing conversations and shared knowledge is never lost.

Trade your inbox for WorkBox

Confluence WorkBox is a re-imagined notification and activity system, available from everywhere within Confluence that automatically tracks items that need your attention, giving you one place to follow the plot. WorkBox’s dynamic duo of notifications and tasks mean you now have one place to keep tabs on all of your most important work without getting trapped in your email inbox.

It’s time to make work about work again.