Dec 4, 2011

Efficient e-mail communication

Frech IT company named Atos (74,000 employees) will completely ban all internal e-mails in 1.5 years. Its CEO, Tony Breton, said that an average employee gets about 200 e-mails daily. Of them, about 18% are spam and only 10% are useful. They already reduced e-mail traffic by 20% and happy with results. Atos management says that employees will continue to communicate using instant messaging and Facebook-like posts.

Atos made a step towards better efficiency in business communication. This is a great and clever decision.

I agree that e-mail channels often become a major distraction way. While it is possible to filter out spam effectively with relatively simple measures, other e-mail message often remain inefficient. Many mails come with extra words, long disclaimers, polite but needless "how are you"s, etc. I believe that business correspondence should be strictly about business. This position may seem extreme to some readers. We all know that business often grows due to personal relations. But it is a good thing to separate personal and business when you want to talk about tasks. Time is extremely valuable, so loosing it for inefficient e-mails is not a good thing. If it is a business e-mail, it is about business, so let's get straight to business without personal stuff. Personal stuff is ok in personal e-mails but if person A needs person B to do something, just ask for it. The clearer A does it, the more chances that he will get it.

Here is an example of a great e-mail I got recently:

Hi Dmitry, 
for our XYZ customer, we have a new request to extend RealURL. It sounds quite simply. Could you please check if this is possible an how much effort it takes you to do the changes with RealURL? 
With RealURL it is possible to ...
This is an excellent e-mail: short, concrete, easy to read, clear. When I communicate, I prefer the same style:

Yes, I can change that but it will require a database structure change. All data will be preserved though. 
How fast do you need it?

Instant messaging is often better, because it has to be quick (real-time in most cases). Still, often I see:
How are you?
Can I ask you a simple question? I hope I do not interrupt you...
So there are three messages, none of them of any value. The only thing I want to answer is: “Yes, you interrupted me and asked a question already. Could we talk about your real purpose now?”. Of course, I do not do that. That would be rude, but I am still annoyed. I prefer the style, with which I write messages:

Hi Andri! Could you add a new cron job for me on srv08? The is is normal TYPO3 scheduler, so you can set frequency as you usually set it. The requirement is that it should run at least once between 18:00 and 08:00.
And the response:
hi dmitry. you mean vs08 i think? all schedulers are already called  every 5 minutes
That's the most efficient communication we can have. And it is the best. It takes a single message from both sides and about 20 seconds of our time. Isn't it perfect?

I know that some of readers will now think I am senseless jerk and do not give a cent to personal communication and feeling. This is absolutely not true. In fact, I am a very empathic person and I feel a lot of emotions. Emotions can quickly overhelm me, so I have to keep them under control and exclude from my work. Emotions should stay out of routine daily business. Business is about business. The more effective our business communication, the faster we can solve all our tasks and get to relaxing, socialising, etc.

So, next time when you write about business, stay away from personal stuff, disclaimers, etc. Just get straight to business. It will be fine.

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