Email costs North American businesses almost $2 trillion in salaries each year. Contatta, the email management company, produced this startling statistic in an infographic earlier this month.
Drawing upon information from the United States Bureau of Labor, McKinsey Global Institute and the Radicati Group, the company concludes that employees spend an average of 13 hours a week, or 637 hours a year, on reading, writing and dealing with email.
Assuming a median professional wage of $23 an hour, this adds up to an annual total of more than $1.7 trillion.
The Cost of Email: A Worldwide Phenomenon
The figures themselves are not news. According to the International Journal of Internet and Enterprise Management, 2011 research suggested that the cost of email in the UK and Australia was between £5,000 (US$8,341) and £10,000 (US$16,682) per employee per year, a similar figure to that Contatta reported.
But does this mean that email is a waste of time and money, or is it simply an essential tool in the running of a modern business? After all, employees need to share ideas and information with one another, and to talk to their customers and suppliers. Effective communication is a vital part of generating profits for the business.
Brenda Christensen of Contatta agrees that email is a necessary tool, but thinks that workers use it for inappropriate tasks. In an interview with Decoded Business she said that “email is an essential tool for communication – what it is non-essential for is task management, project management and other non-email related activities.” She estimates that 12% of email time is ineffective, relating to tasks that email cannot cope with. In cash terms this means that North American businesses waste more than $200 billion each year; a pattern repeated around the globe.
Making Email More Efficient
People have tried to make email more efficient for years: a quick Google search will yield dozens of articles along the lines of “how to manage your inbox more effectively.” But is it time for a more radical solution?
Contatta certainly thinks so, and it has developed “collaborative email,” a way of integrating email with shared work-spaces, sharing tasks and files as well as information.
Collaboration is the key to this approach, and Brenda Christensen says that “the ability to communicate and collaborate with your teams in workrooms and invite outside guests to participate – including customers and vendors – provides a unique opportunity to get more done and faster.” Contatta advises its customers that a change to collaborative email could result in up to 30% increased efficiency.
Contatta is not alone in trying to find innovative ways to improve communications and reduce waste in organisations. The McKinsey Global Institute suggested in 2012 that applying social technologies to email and other communication tasks “could raise the productivity of interaction workers by 20 to 25 percent” and a number of companies now offer collaborative solutions.
Effective Business Communication
Businesses have always struggled to make their communications as effective as possible, even in the days when most correspondence was via pen and paper. Email has certainly revolutionised the workplace, allowing workers to communicate faster and with more people, without regard to geography or time zones. But it is just one element in the communications toolbox, and it may now be time to reevaluate methods of usage.