E-mail is in the doghouse at work

A U.K. study finds workers are getting fed up with excess e-mailing. Experts say a revision of company e-mail policy may be in order.

Recent surveys suggest that despite a growing number of e-mails being sent, users increasingly prefer other types of communication. Analysts say one reason for this shift may be that the growth of e-mail is causing information overload, and firms should therefore introduce new policies on e-mail use or risk lower productivity.

Last month, a survey of 2,000 Internet users carried out by the Consumers' Association found that the popularity of e-mail was waning. Only five percent of respondents said e-mail was their preferred form of communication, compared with 14 percent in the same survey last year.

Also last month, a study by market research company Vanson Bourne found that U.K. employees spend as much as 25 percent of their working lives managing e-mail. Commissioned by information management firm KVS, the survey discovered that workers spend up to two hours sending between 30 and 70 e-mails each day.

One IT services manager contacted by IT Week said that the proliferation of e-mail could increase administration costs and damage competitiveness.

He said another problem is that projects and contracts are frequently being conducted via multiple e-mails over a long period. He pointed out that this can be inefficient, and the only documentation for products and contracts is often the e-mails exchanged by the parties involved. He recommended that companies should connect series of e-mails together as linked lists, so that agreements reached, and the e-mails sent, can be stored in chronological order.

He also advised that organizations should have formal written contracts in order to prevent arguments between different parties, where one is unable to show a full history of e-mail correspondence.

Other users were concerned that the absence of formality in business e-mails means that communications often lack clarity, and so reduce levels of efficiency. Colin Williams, business development manager at IT equipment supplier Action.com, suggested that poorly written e-mails lead to "a degree of disdain for the writer".

Calendaring synchronization tools firm On Board Info has argued that companies are also in danger of alienating their customers through excessive e-mail marketing. It suggests that alternative approaches are required, such as permission-based marketing in which firms are able to place adverts on users' PCs or PDA calendars.


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