Even Dilbert (a knowledge worker) concurs:
Meet the deskless workers of the world. They can be found in stores, on factory floors, in hotels and restaurants, warehouses, and construction sites. Oh by the way, they also make up 80% of the working population.
In addition to working 24/7, they are on the work on-the-field all the time. And so, when their employers use emails to instruct/train/communicate with them, bad things happen.
1)No one reads long emails.
As it is, it take significant time and effort to read and respond to relentlessly long emails. Imagine doing the same, when you’re on the field, doing physical labor.
2) Communicating in real-time becomes near impossible.
Forget long emails: Reading and responding to short emails, whilst in the middle of a sale, or drilling on the oil rig is unwieldy. Think about the notification that turns up on your phone: It has a subject line, the name of the sender and the first few lines of text. This desktop-era formatting hides the meat of the message deep inside the email without displaying it upfront in the notification.
“I’ll check it out later,” thinks your deskless worker. That could be unfortunate if your email was related to the sale or the drilling that your employee was working on.
3) It becomes hard to enforce accountability
So, maybe you’ve trained your workforce to read the critical emails no matter what. Good.
Here’s the next problem: Assuming that everyone’s read your email and are ready act on it, you launch a brand new process. What you also know is that 10% of the employees generally slack off. But you don’t know who they are. Given that they’re spread across hundreds of locations, enforcement becomes a logistical nightmare. You’re rolling out the process blind: the chinks in your armour become big, wide gaping holes.
Unlike chats, there’s no way to know if someone has opened the email and has read them, unless you use external tools to track them. This lack of accountability is as much a burning issue for employees as it is for managers.
4) Email etiquettes play spoilsport
Email is like the grandfather of modern communication tools. Like all veterans, it operates by a set of standard rules. When deskless workers see well-formatted emails with rich graphics, adhering to rules of etiquette, they feel the need to match up and write equally good emails. This mental block, coupled with mismatch of rules, can often send confusing signals in a message. Like below.
Or worse still, the mental block might actively discourage employees from writing to the management. When the disconnect widens, be ready to face problems related to attrition and lack of productivity in the coming months.
5) Collaboration ceases to exist. Worse still, workplace conversations get diluted.
Let’s say: The aforementioned problem of etiquette can be overcome by enough exposure to the world of emails. Two-way conversations can still be established with some effort. But the real culprit that destroys the essence of bidirectional communication are threads.
While those who work from within a cubicle can afford to keep a tab on never-ending email threads and move work forward, those on the field, can’t. The comic below does a superb job of showing you why:
If not email, what else?
For this segment of employees, work is process-driven and time-critical.
Given their responsibilities and the work environment they operate in, a chat is not enough. Neither is email.
Choosing a platform/tool that helps deliver the depth of an email with the urgency of the chat will help internal comms to a great extent. More importantly, it will allow managers to communicate effectively with workers using new multimedia tools, and helps the latter prioritize messages and reach them anytime, anyplace.
Replacing emails with something more effective is a step towards that.