In a meeting today one of my coworkers said “We don’t use email.” Wouldn’t it be great if something like that was true? Email can be pretty terrible at times, especially if it balloons to take up time that you would rather spend on other things.
The problem is that even at a tech company, we still use email. Not everyone uses it, but if you work directly with people outside the company it’s almost impossible not to use it. Many internal tasks (like calendaring and internal app notifications) still rely on email.
While I have had my share of days where I fantasized about the cruel, painful death I’d like to inflict on it, email is still useful for a lot of things. Since I’m working from home, email is one of the breakwaters I use to separate my work life from my personal life. I don’t have an office phone system and I would much rather give out my work email than my personal cell phone number. Score one for email.
Sometimes real-time chat programs (like Slack or Semaphor) aren’t the right tool for the job. If I need immediate input from someone it works great. If a conversation is going on that I want to participate in it’s also great. If I have longer form thoughts that I want to share then it’s not a great fit. (Remember office memos? They do serve a purpose sometimes.) Yes, I could pin a couple of paragraphs of text to the top of a channel, but sending them as an email means no one will receive a notification, it won’t get buried by subsequent conversations in chat and people know that because I sent it by email I don’t expect an immediate answer. It’s like extending an invitation for a more thought-out answer.
My point here isn’t to blame or shame people because they like different tools than I do. It’s important to choose the most appropriate tool for the job. Sometimes that even means crusty old email.