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team members benefiting from talking rather than emailing

Emailing vs Talking: 5 ways productivity is improved by choosing to talk

  • 5 min read

Email, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, text messages…

When it comes to communication, we are increasingly reliant on the written word – as well as the odd emoji 😊 - but is text always the most effective way to be productive at work?

There is a now a growing understanding that it is not always the most efficient way to interact.

In fact, there are circumstances where email can hold productivity back and where verbal communication is far more effective.

So, it should be no surprise that many high-profile organisations, from global accountancy group Deloitte to the UK government Cabinet Office, have all trialled no email days in an effort to help employees kick the habit.

Written communication can be slower, interrupts work flow, is easily misconstrued and can erode relationships over time.

Here we explore which is better, email or phone call, detail some of the drawbacks of using email and explain why and how verbal communication can help to improve efficiency and productivity in SMEs.

1. Avoid interruptions

Research has found that the average office worker receives 121 emails a day and sends out 40.

After they have opened and responded to each email, it takes them a minute and a half to refocus on the job in hand and get back up to speed.

That’s three hours a day when you are not working at full capacity because an email has interrupted your workflow and put you off.

And this is a growing problem.

New research by tech firm Workfront found 61 per cent  of office workers said receiving too many emails stopped them from getting their work done, which was up from 52 per cent a year earlier.

So, before you click ‘send’ or ‘reply all’, think about whether your message really needs sending, and whether you need to copy in the whole team.

Perhaps it would be more efficient to have a conversation instead.

2. Aid understanding

How many times have you seen a simple enquiry turn into a seemingly never-ending email chain, involving scores of people?

This kind of back-and-forth can be frustrating, and it can be down to the difficulty in making certain points understood using text.

Email just isn’t great for making complex or nuanced arguments, for example, or for tackling sensitive topics.

It can easily prolong a debate, so a conversation can be better.

It enables much faster two-way communication, which is far more effective for problem solving, and it cuts everyone else on the distribution list out of the conversation, so they aren’t being distracted unnecessarily.

And you can always follow it up with an email to confirm the details of what was agreed.

3. Extra information

Speaking to someone face-to-face – even via a video link – gives you access to a whole host of extra information that you would not pick up in an email.

Though a person may be using the same words they use in a written message, this is enhanced by their tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures and more.

Psychologists have found that just 7 per cent of the meaning of a message is derived from the words, while 38 per cent comes from the person’s intonation and 55 per cent from their facial expressions and body language.

In other words, our words are only a small part of the way we communicate.

That presents the danger of comments being misinterpreted in an email because the reader can’t interpret the writer’s tone.

One of the key disadvantages of email vs conversation or email vs is that you cannot hear their intonations or see their expressions, which gives a whole new level of information.

In organisations with offices in different regions, or even countries, colleagues may never physically meet, so become reliant on email to communicate. In this case, web-video conferencing can be a fantastic tool for building better relationships.

4. The need for speed

An email can travel around the world in a fraction of a second, but if you need to communicate with someone quickly, it’s actually not always the best choice.

Drafting, crafting and proofing an effective and accurate email takes time, and there is no guarantee of a rapid response.

Often, you have no idea whether the other person is online or not.

And, just because something is urgent to you, doesn’t mean that it is to the person who you are emailing.

There is always the danger that your email will land in a folder of hundreds of unread messages, waiting for someone to notice it.

One study found that only just over a third (38 per cent) of emails we receive at work are actually important, so it’s easy to see why people don’t exactly jump to attention at every email alert.

Reaching out for a real conversation, or a phone or video call instead, prevents an email from going unread, makes it far quicker to clarify understanding and gives you immediate feedback.

It’s a lot harder to ignore a tap on the shoulder or ringing phone than it is another email.

5. Real relationships

A conversation is a much more human experience than an exchange of emails, and it helps to build and develop relationships with colleagues and clients. Email lacks the personal touch, and doesn’t enable users to communicate their personalities easily.

That’s important in a work context, just as it is outside of work.

If you speak to someone on a regular basis then it’s easy to maintain and strengthen your relationship with them, which helps build trust and goodwill – both fundamental to the success of any business.

When you communicate face-to-face, by phone or by video call, it’s usual to start the conversation with a friendly, informal exchange: How was your weekend? How are the kids? What’s the weather like where you are?

That doesn’t tend to happen on email, which is a missed opportunity.

And the more you speak, the better your communication skills become.

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