Downsides of email as a communication tool in corporate governance

Vadim Grishchukov, 16 August, 2019.

As you may noticed, at the end of this April a high-valued gift was presented by the most powerful e-mail provider – Google – to its users: Gmail application got its updated interface, improved design and brand-new features. This event has become one of the most important of this year in the global IT community, and a good hundred of articles have already been written about it. In our turn, to “celebrate” this event we have decided to ponder on the relevance of e-mail, as such: for the purposes of world businesses development, in particular use of emails as means of communication in companies.

Phil Simon is a famous American speaker, professor and author of business management best-sellers (the best known “Message Not Received”, “Too Big To Ignore”, “The Visual Organization”, etc.). In one of his interviews to the popular British online magazine, he said:

“I’m not anti-email; I’m anti-inefficiency. Email was never designed to be a collaboration tool. Manage a project or todo list over email? Doesn’t make any sense.”

Those companies who still prefer to go with email, allocate as many as three important functions for it within the company: 

  • Internal communication: creating tasks, monitoring task progress, discussing current work issues, etc.
  • Documents storing: arrangement of email chains with regard to a particular issue and their storing within a relevant time period in email archives.
  • External communication: correspondence with customers or providers, sending commercial quotations, discussing current issues with counterparties , etc.

Each of the above sections has its specific inconveniences, as well as many potential threats of data leak. Let’s discuss this more comprehensively.

Disadvantages of corporate email for internal communication

E-mail was created more than 40 years ago to be anything but used by a group of people. Originally, it was meant for a message exchange between two persons using two different computers. Nowadays, the email application functionality still does not provide for a collaboration work or discussion of outstanding issues by a group of more than 2 participants. 

Many business managers refuse to embrace the limited possibilities of email and they face the following problems:

  • Lack of order in message chains in the course of discussing an individual task within a project;
  • Impossibility to control the stages of tasks implementation and respectively to react promptly to emerging difficulties;
  • Missing out the opportunity to organize an effective teamwork or engage outsourced experts to brainstorm meetings.
  • A chance of erroneous delivery of a message containing non-relevant information, for example, of a private nature.

Integrated Subsea Services Ltd, the global oilfield services company, headquartered in Scotland, has recently found itself in the crosshairs of a Twitter scandal when information on a private life of its receptionist with one of the company’s employees went viral. Melanie Anderson wrote an official email on the top of her message chain with a fiance Eric Knisz and sent it to all 89 employees. The correspondence contained details of their sexual life and very soon it appeared in the posts on the global social media. All in all, this lead to a big fuss, and as a result, the couple had to resign from their jobs to escape permanent gossip.

Disadvantages of corporate email for documents storing 

In many aspects of businesses a long-term storage of documents is required so that they can be later used in disputes and arguments, and even reviewed in legal actions. Many countries already have laws and regulations in place that provide for an electronic information seizure under the force majeure situations, and if such electronic documents cannot be found some severe financial sanctions can be applied.

What are the types of messages by necessary keeping time? 

  • Messages with a short keeping period – which will have no value tomorrow, i.e. technical details communication that should be deleted at the end of the working day, or end of the working week at the latest.
  • Messages with an average keeping period – which have a significant value for business purposes and should be stored in the email database for up to 3-7 years.
  • Messages with a long keeping period – the letters with a very important information, precise figures and settlements or attached contracts and other important documents. It is recommended to store such messages for more than 7 years.

Breakdown by a type of storage time is determined individually by the divisional managers.  It is important to pass this information to all the employees and provide them with accurate instructions regarding the deleting of emails.

As you can see, the system is far from flawless in its implementation and therefore it entails a number of serious problems:

  • A human error – if an employee has failed to follow instructions regarding email deleting fully and correctly, then the error may have a harmful effect for the entire company;
  • Large amounts of information – the emails should be “put into stock” in the email database, however its memory capacity is not unlimited at all. 

David O. Stephens, a world-class business consultant, the vice president of Zasio Enterprises Inc and author of the famous book “Information and Records Management: Document-Based Information System”, once delivered a report on “Top Ten Issues Driving Records Management Today” in the New York branch of the ARMA International association. He then raised the issue in the following way: “Some employees simply will not detect and delete messages of a transitory value, and some employees who are sending and receiving messages of a long-term or permanent retention value will not systematically identify and transit them from the messaging environment.

Disadvantages of corporate email for external communication

The main problem in this segment is data leaks. All information stored on email servers is intended exclusively for internal use, but very often data leaks out and entails great trouble for the company and considerable financial losses for the owners.

How does it happen?

  • Intentionally by someone from the staff – when someone who has an access to the inside information, sends it on purpose to an external email address in order to steal data.
  • Unintentionally by someone from the staff – when confidential information goes viral to the outside world because the email was mistakenly forwarded to a wrong address.
  • As a results of a hacker attack – when one person or a group of people are hacking company’s email database to unbalance its work.

In September 2017, the online magazine The Guardian posted on their website shocking news that one of the world’s “big four” accountancy firms, London’s Deloitte, have been suffering from cyber-attacks for two months by an unknown group of people. The group of hackers have compromised corporate email server and obtained access to more than 240,000 messages of employees. The investigation have managed to find out that the attackers were located in Virginia, USA, but who they are is yet to be established.

Apart from the risk of losing confidential data, there is another main problem for using email as an external communication tool – viruses. This is a malicious, quick-spreading software, the main function of which is to disrupt normal performance of computer systems. The viruses get through to the internal digital space in the form of an enclosed attachment sent via an email. Soon after one of the staff receives and opens such a file on its local computer, failure occurs throughout the company’s electronic system. That kind of situations usually cost the owners a huge amount of money, and the lost information may be nonrecoverable at all.

The boom of popularity for emails was in 2008. At least, this is what the famous New York online magazine Fast Company wrote in one of its articles. The article also contains estimates that email will no longer exist as a private communication tool by 2044, and some members of the corporate sector will continue to use email for as long as 5-7 years, at most. The main reasons for that are inefficiency and the lack of confidentiality at the required level.

Is the game worth the candles? This decision is beyond doubt you take at your own discretion – for your staff and your company. But you should remember: the more effective your communication system is, the more high-performance your work process will become! Using Linoza Task Tracker and Linoza Knowledge Base you will move to a new level of quality of communication management, corporate information storage and staff training.

Sources of information:

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