Kim Rose, the co-founder and Executive Director of Viewpoints Research Institute, uses email in a way that borders on real-time communication. She doesn’t use IM or IRC, but her coworkers would notice if she went much more than an hour without sending an email. It keeps her as connected as a real-time tool.
The email you send to one or two people is the closest thing to real-time communication of any of the systems discussed in this chapter. Email is the only form of communication in this chapter where you are deliberately choosing your audience. This is in contrast with a blog or forum where you post information and the reader determines if they are interested. Addressing a small select audience requires a different style of writing than addressing a larger audience.
Email is also one of the easiest forms of written communication. When you send an email you don’t need to find the right forum or format a wiki page: just type your message, review it, and send it. Email is the perfect communication mechanism for specific non-urgent questions.
Use Email By Default
Emailing someone is the least intrusive way to ask them a question. It lets them continue their work uninterrupted until they are ready to respond. Email should be your default choice when you have a question for a teammate.
Answer Emails Promptly
Lost connections, SPAM filters, and accidental deletions can make an email disappear. When you get an email from someone you should answer them quickly so they don’t worry that the email was lost. A good rule of thumb is to answer emails from your team within two hours during normal business hours.
A Word of Caution
“Many in our study found e-mail a poor way for teams as a whole to collaborate. They reported what others have noticed as well: Trying to do the main work of the team through one-to-one exchanges between members can cause those not included to feel left out, diminishing the trust in the group and leading ultimately to dysfunction.”
Email is an exclusionary form of communication. When you send someone an email it is not visible to anyone else. Private communication like this works well for some topics, but not for collaboration with a team.
The personal nature of direct email makes it a good place to communication directly with a very small group of individuals. Direct email is a tool for communication, not collaboration. Using email to support mailing lists can be an excellent way to foster collaboration.