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We are drowning in e-mail at work, and it’s time to make it stop. (Jupiterimages/Jupiterimages)
We are drowning in e-mail at work, and it’s time to make it stop. (Jupiterimages/Jupiterimages)

Communication

E-mail has had its day. It’s time to move on Add to ...

What did you do this Canada Day? Like me, you might have started the day going through your e-mail inbox, which possibly felt a bit lighter. New anti-spam laws came into effect on July 1, dictating that companies, non-profits and charities need to obtain your consent, explicit or implied, before hitting send.

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Like every other Canadian with an e-mail account, every day last week my inbox was bombarded with e-mails pleading that we need to stay in touch – if only I would consent to it. As much as I enjoy some of the senders’ information, I hit “delete” on almost every one with great delight. July 1, 2014 will go down in my books as the beginning of the end of e-mail – and this shift couldn’t come soon enough. E-mail has had its day and it’s time to move on.

Before small and mid-sized businesses knock at my door, pitchforks in hand, hear me out. I know this change hurts and that you rely on e-mail to communicate with hard-earned customers with short attention spans. I also acknowledge the argument suggesting that this law won’t really deter spamming, especially considering that less than 2 per cent of spam messages originate in Canada

But like most other evolutions, it’s for the better. The sooner we realize that there can be a future without e-mail, at least the amount we receive now, the sooner we can adapt.

E-mail can be described as the “grandfather” of workplace productivity tools, but today, most of us experience a love-hate relationship with it. I can’t stop checking my e-mail accounts but then I take so much delight in deleting incoming messages that I often purge my inbox of important e-mails.

There are 108.7 billion e-mails sent and received a day, according to Radicati, a technology market research firm, and the majority of traffic comes from business accounts. They also report that the number of worldwide e-mail users is expected to grow from over 2.5 billion in 2014 to over 2.8 billion in 2018.

The average employee spends 40 per cent of his or her time dealing with internal e-mails that have little to no impact on their business.

Think about that next time you scroll through your inbox, feeling harassed because you have too much to do in too little time. The productivity losses are nothing short of astronomical.

Now, the anti-spam law won’t crack down on your colleagues’ mass-e-mails internally, but it is a good start as we embark on a post-e-mail existence. The obvious answer to how we will communicate is simple: rely more heavily on social media platforms, which promise an antidote to e-mail. These channels are immediate, to the point, and allow users to lean into the discussion when and if they choose to.

Then there are the plethora of apps that cater to those who crave more immediacy in their communication, such as WhatsApp, which Facebook purchased for a cool $19-billion (U.S.) earlier this year, and the red-hot app Yo, which apparently does nothing but send the word “yo” to contacts.

When polled on Twitter, many people acknowledged that they deleted e-mails from marketers and companies asking whether they could keep in touch, explaining that their inbox provided too much digital clutter.

Dawn Dalley, the vice-president of corporate relations and customer service at Nalcor Energy in St. John’s, said she’s been steadily saying no to companies’ consent requests because she wants less noise and prefers target marketing through social media, the Web or blogs where she can chose to engage the source if it interests her.

From a marketing perspective, businesses will need to improve their game to win us over but the possibilities are endless. Consider the recent YouTube hit, First Moon Party, which generated almost 24 million views in two weeks for the company, Hello Flo, a tampon subscription service. Even the most entertaining of e-mails could not have pulled off this viral impact.

Other options include harking back to more retro ways of communicating. One Twitter user, Jan Davies, a professor of anesthesia at the University of Calgary, said she’d like to see companies use postcards.

“Postcards can be efficient ways to communicate non-time-critical information,” said Prof. Davies, who explained that this format doesn’t produce a lot of paper waste.

While postcards may seem anachronistic, they provide a refreshing antidote to mass e-mailers that don’t target their audience well enough, failing to engage and entertain. Consumers and colleagues alike want to be delighted – not merely informed – and current technology needs to play to that model.

So, in a strange way, I’m excited about the new law. It just may be the prod we need to wrest ourselves free from the servitude of e-mail and embrace a brave new world. Welcome to the future of work.

Leah Eichler is founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. E-mail: leah@rallyyourgoals.com

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