Emails are today’s primary mode of communication. It is easy to understand why it is so. Sending an email is very convenient. You don’t need to be directly connected to the person to email them. You can take your time in composing an email or replying to one. Emails can be used both for formal work and for communicating with friends.
But email has its own disadvantages, especially in the business environment. Let’s start with the fact that emails can be ignored by the person receiving them. Ignoring an email can be done on purpose when the person just doesn’t want to reply to the email. It can be accidental when the person misplaces the email or plain forgets about it. Unlike a telephone call where a person is on the spot to reply, the nature of asynchronous email communication allows emails to be overlooked.
This possibility requires you to be able to follow-up on all the emails you have sent. This is not a practical consideration if you are a person who sends out several emails a day. To keep track of tasks assigned through emails, you would have to start with reviewing all the emails sent out and checking which ones have been replied to.
I don’t know of any email client which does this effectively. Ideally, such a system should alert the sender which emails have not received replies in an easy reporting mechanism. Until such an email tool is available, it is much better to use a task management system where by you can assign tasks to individuals and have them use that system to communicate back. Such a system should have notifications and alerts built to enforce timelines to reply to a message.
Another problem with emails occurs when they are addressed to multiple people. How do you convey the correct meaning to everyone? More to the point, what do you expect each person to do with the information? This means paying more attention to provide a brief explanation at the top explaining why you are sending this email and addressing each person by name and providing your expectations from him or her.
If you belong to the category of people who feel compelled to share information with several people, stop. Understand why you want to send the information and provide the correct context to them. Those who have to do something with that information should be in the “To” block. Others who are required to be “in the loop” should be in the “CC” block.
Finally, emails are equivalent to any other record of written communication. Once you have sent it, there is no way of preventing its distribution. Do not email something you do not want associated with you in the future. There is really no privacy in email. If you want to keep something under wraps, talk to the person directly.