In a previous job, I had a line manager who always used to communicate with me and the rest of the team by email.  Rarely did he speak to us face to face about important or for that matter, less important things. We need to be thoughtful about how we are using email.

Email as a medium of choice

Email is inevitably the medium of choice in the workplace. It’s fast, easy and flexible. We can use it to communicate with anyone, in any place and at any time.  But does this mean it’s always the right or most effective way to communicate?

What feels like, on a monthly basis, we get new technologies rising out of the ether that become new mediums for communicating.  Social media instant messaging such as Whatsapp and Snapchat, or Facebook messaging are norms in our private lives, but not so much at work, yet!  And so despite the fact that it never improves or evolves, email remains the favoured means of communication in the workplace.  It certainly isn’t dead by any means.

The impact of email

Using email is an ingrained part of our culture now. I can never understand why nor can I remember life without it but somehow we managed.  Perhaps we talked to people instead.

For starters, email is very rarely, if ever, linked to other systems we use.  It works on a ‘standalone’ basis. Instead, we have to transfer useful information into other technologies we use to manage our tasks.  Linked technology can be our online calendar or client database, for example.

We clearly need to think about the impact it has on our working relationships.  I know for certain that the team I worked with had little respect for, and felt disrespected by a manager who rarely approached us face to face.

Face to face is essential for working relationships

Using email is great at the right time and in the right situations.  It is no substitute for communicating with someone face to face. In this way, we ensure we build working relationships, trust, and engagement.  This includes working through a video interface like zoom or MS Teams, it is always better to see the person we are communicating with.

It’s so important to find the balance between using email to save time and taking a personal approach.  A solid foundation for communication that recognises when it’s appropriate to send an email and when it’s the right time to talk face to face does wonders for interpersonal relationships.

Arm’s length communication

The alternative is the risk of keeping staff at arm’s length so that they feel alienated and disrespected. We must be mindful of the things we often fail to think about when we send emails.  What kind of tone is likely to be assumed by the employee who reads your message, how will they interpret it, is it clear or ambiguous?

My advice is to use email to supplement, not to replace other forms of communication. Maybe to simply confirm a face to face discussion or to prompt the need for such a discussion.  When it comes to giving feedback, establishing understanding and talking about performance, it’s a big NO.

By using email, my line manager missed out on so many opportunities to explore ideas with the team. He failed to win them over in difficult situations or learn from them.  We would have appreciated and understood him far more and vice versa if he had only taken the time out to talk to us.

Image courtesy of Depositphotos

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