More Clicks Than Conversations

Shift to E-mail in Business Makes Crafting Meaningful Messages More

As professionals with overflowing inboxes may attest,
people are doing more typing than talking when communicating on the job. Results
from a recent OfficeTeam survey bear this out: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of
executives prefer to receive e-mail over other forms of communication, up from
34 percent a decade ago. Conversely, the preference for face-to-face meetings,
paper memos and voice mail has dropped.

Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service
specializing in the placement of highly skilled administrative professionals,
noted that while e-mail offers convenience, this ease comes at a price. “Many
professionals receive an overwhelming amount of e-mail, which makes it easier
for messages to get lost in the shuffle,” she said.

The survey was developed by OfficeTeam and conducted by an independent
research firm, and includes interviews with 150 senior executives at the
nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

Executives were asked, “Which form of business communication do you generally
prefer to receive?” Their responses:

  2007 1997
E-mail 65% 34%
Face-to-face meeting 31% 44%
Paper memo 3% 12%
Voice mail 1% 7%
Don’t know 0% 3%
  100% 100%

“Two benefits of electronic communication are the immediacy and historical
context it provides, including the ability to maintain a record of conversations
and obtain project updates from coworkers and business colleagues,” Domeyer
said. “But there can be too much of a good thing when inboxes reach

To avoid e-mail overload and ensure your messages are well-received,
OfficeTeam offers these five tips:

  • Make it clear. State the purpose for the message upfront,
    followed by back-up details, so the important points will show up in the
    recipient’s e-mail viewing pane.
  • Avoid copying everyone. Only forward messages to those who
    are directly involved with the topic you’re addressing. Likewise, don’t “reply
    all” if others on the string don’t need your response.
  • Keep it brief. Don’t expect others to read a long message
    or e-mail chain. If it’s important for someone to have the background
    information, forward it, but provide a brief summary first rather than saying
    “see below.”
  • Don’t cry wolf. Only mark a message “urgent” when it is
    truly critical for the recipient to read it immediately.
  • Provide context. Describe the e-mail contents in the
    subject line so the recipient can prioritize messages and search for your note
    in the future. When appropriate, include the required action and deadline; for
    example, “For your approval 12/27: XYZ budget.”

Domeyer noted that, although e-mail is fast, it isn’t the most appropriate
medium for all communications. “Often, tasks can be accomplished more quickly
and clearly with a phone call or face to face,” she said. “When people find
themselves spending a lot of time searching for precisely the right words, it’s
often a sign that the topic warrants an in-person discussion.”

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