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When To Use Email (And When Not To!)


Nadia Tatlow

CEO - 16 Jun, 2017


Since the Internet first introduced us to email, the platforms for possible communication have multiplied, almost out of control. We have so many ways to communicate with partners and coworkers these days that it can be hard to figure out which method is best suited for any given purpose.

Make no mistake though, email may be the granddaddy of the bunch, but it’s far from retirement age. Email still delivers plenty of advantages that chat, video calls and text messages can’t compete with. In fact, there are still plenty of situations where there’s no choice at all, only email can deliver.

Here are just a few of the situations where you should stick with old faithful and send your message through email.

You Need  A Thoughtful Response

If you’ve got a quick question that you know will be met with a quick answer, it’s probably fine to send an instant message or text, or to start a quick voice call.

In this case, going through email provides a few benefits to the person on the other end of the conversation. Since you’re not on the phone waiting for an answer right this moment, your recipient has time to finish what they are doing and give your question or problem their full attention when it’s more convenient. When the time is right, they can carefully write out their answer, making sure you get all the information you need.

In general, if you think it’s going to take someone more than two minutes to answer you, or if they will have to do more work in order to get your answer, email is probably your best choice. Other methods of communication will most likely be disruptive and counterproductive.

Your Message Will Be Used As A Reference

When you’re sending someone information that they will need to refer back to in the future, email gives you benefits that other communication platforms lack.

When you need to provide someone with a lot of details that need to be remembered, it’s best to give it to them in writing. In some cases, where the needed information is particularly short, instant messages might work. In most cases, though, email is a better medium. You’ll be able to take advantage of formatting and attachments to make things easier to read and remember, and it will be easier for the recipient to refer back to it if they need to in the future.

When You Need Documented Communication

If you need to be sure your communication is documented for any reason, email is the way to go.

As email makes its way from one person to another, it passes through independent servers that add routing, time and date information to every message. Your email client almost certainly hides all of this information as you read your messages, but it is there. In the case that you need to prove that you sent a message, or that it was sent at a specific time, meta data added to messages and/or logs from email servers can give you that proof.

You Need To Project A Courteous Professional Image

If the relationship you have with your message recipient is more formal, you should most likely choose email over other forms of correspondence, unless another form of communication was previously arranged.

Email is the modern world’s equivalent to a polite and professional handwritten letter. Instant messages come across more like a post-it note left on a bulletin board and voice or video calls can be interpreted as an uninvited guest knocking on the door and interrupting when there is important work to be done.

You’re Not Sure Of The Final Destination

Sometimes when you send off a message you’re not really sure where it’s going to end up.

For example, you’ve got some information for the sales department and you know your buddy Jack would find it useful, but he’s most likely going to need to pass it along to another colleague or manager.

In this case, and especially if the information you’re sending is more than just a couple of sentences, email is probably going to be the best way to handle things. Jack will end up with a message he can refer back to if he needs to, but more importantly, he can forward your message in its entirety to whomever it may concern. Then, if someone else needs to be brought in on the conversation in the future, they can be sent a single quoted message that lets them see everything that has happened so far.

Email makes it easy to pass things along without the need for paraphrasing or messy cut and paste creations. When messages are forwarded or quoted in replies, the result is always a faithful copy with no room for misinterpretations.

Of course, everyone here at Shift is a huge fan of email. We certainly make use of messengers and texts and the occasional video call too, but email far outweighs every other communication platform. How about you? What’s your preferred way to get the word out when you need to?