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I know its not strictly related to what people ask here but I have to ask this anyway.

Isn't having long conversations/discussions over emails reduce one's productivity. I have joined this new company where people prefer emails alot. It's not a big company so every one is accessible to everyone and also senior techies tend to get together for a 30 mins session every day to discuss and plan things with managers and stake holders.

I think emails are great and should be used as long as they are to the point and don't waste anyone's time. In my professional experience getting or agreeing things over emails quickly becomes an endless game of ping-pong. Reaching to a conclusion often takes days just because.. oh well..not everyone has enough time to go through lengthy emails. Email subjects often become less subjective and more "re:re:re:re:fw:". After few "re:re's" and "fw:fw's" it becomes a nightmare to find what you're looking for since not every single thing in emails is a key-point so coming back to conversation after 8-9 months is like going through someone's source code writen in C.

It's also not the best approach for discussing ideas or agreeing over things as most people tend to be more reserved in email conversations than they are in real life because it's very easy to misinterpret one's tone.

Most of the times I find it much easier and quicker to send an email saying "Lets discuss thing X at xx:xx" followed by a quick call at agreed time rather than dragging the issue for days (or in some cases weeks). When needed I follow up with an email saying "well here's what we agreed on the phone".

Also people are generally more respectful to each other and open to discussions when talking face to face or over the phone.

Don't get me wrong, emails are important and should be used whenever they are absolutely necessary. But in small/medium sized teams why is this culture (of writing long stories i.e. emails) so so important ? why don't people use tools like Basecamp, redmine, wiki's instead.

How would you improve your team or company's communications so people become more productive and create a friendly environment.

Thank you for reading.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Email is great for temporary communication, scheduling, organization, and so forth - especially with calendar or to-do list integration and other nifty features. It can be good for meta-discussions that involve a lot of opinions and shouldn't be documented as fact provided it is somehow easy to filter (e.g., email aliases for topic discussion), and can be good for quick information that doesn't need to be documented (although I prefer IM or face-to-face for this).

Anything that is likely to be needed over and over again should be properly documented in an easy-to-locate spot. Our company likes to use a wiki. Some companies use SharePoint. If it isn't leveraging an email feature like the calendar and will be needed again a few weeks later, generally it is better (IMO) to document it somewhere else.

To get your company to avoid using email when things should be documented, I think the thing to do is:

  • Make sure your company has a repository for information like this; if not, set up a wiki or something yourself
  • Use the repository religiously; be a good example
  • When others fail to use the repository of information and instead email it out, either reply-all with "Should this go on the Sharepoint / wiki?" if the person is normally good about this kind of thing, or put it up yourself and then send a reply-all with "I put this up on the Sharepoint / wiki at [URL]" if they are often forgetful. Reply-all lets your message affect a broader spectrum of people.

A similar approach can be taken for moving meta-discussions and "fun" emails to aliases.

Most workplaces I've been in have rules about marking "fun" emails low-pri or using a particular "off-topic" alias - this can also clean up a lot of clutter.

I find long emails with lots of discussion often indicate that a meeting would be a really, really good idea. So you could also ask if people could schedule a meeting when you see that, or (depending on company culture) just go ahead and schedule it yourself. Then make sure the notes from the meeting get posted on your information repository, and just email the link instead of the notes themselves.

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very well said. agree w/ you. –  user10346 Dec 17 '10 at 1:06

There is a flip side case to be said for e-mails being advantageous in some cases:

  1. Introverted people may tend to prefer written communications which e-mail would be one form of that. This allows for multiple thoughts to be expressed in one message that can be sent in bulk which can be useful to record in some situations,e.g. what work was I doing, what decisions were made about this or that, etc. While e-mail may be abused, there are times where some people that are focused a lot on precision and accuracy in conveying thoughts may prefer e-mail with its structure, archiving, etc. Although things like Twitter and Instant Messaging have replaced some of this need and may be more effective at times. Think of this as some people would rather relay information through written words than verbally, which can be a strength or weakness depending on how one wants to see it.

  2. E-mails can be good for some broadcast scenarios. A build going into test or some other environmental deployment may be worthwhile as an e-mail that can get logged for when was this done and what changes were in it. Another scenario here is to have an agenda for a meeting sent out before the meeting while being environmentally friendly about it.

  3. Approval and workflow management can sometimes be done through e-mail where a system will send off a notification to someone and thus a developer may know a bug was assigned to them or a manager may get an approval form to click for someone to use their vacation time, etc. This isn't quite the broadcast case but it is the case where written records may be wanted for some situations.

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I do use emails for:

  1. Letting my supervisor know about something that is not immediately urgent, that doesn't require discussion, so I don't have to interrupt him.

  2. Providing an electronic record ("proof") of a communication.

  3. Disseminating documents. The document itself might be the long story.

  4. Reviewing a document (such as requirements) and providing detailed written feedback.

  5. Asking clarifying questions about an email I received.


I do not use emails for:

  1. Lengthy discussions, although I will email a summary of the discussion to the participants.

  2. Diatribes, complaints, or anything that might come back to haunt me.

  3. The usual abuses, like chain letters or pictures of my cat.


It might be handy to find out what it is about the corporate culture of this particular company that they prefer emails over other forms of communication. To me, email has very specific uses, outside of which email can become difficult because it's such a constrained medium of communication (you can't see the other person's face or read their body language).

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interesting thoughts.. –  user10346 Dec 17 '10 at 1:07

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