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Remember when the late comedian, Joan Rivers, would quip, “Can we talk?”
Her witty, trademark phrase would make us laugh and slow the conversation down – compel us to listen a little closer, so she could “talk” with us honestly about what was on her mind. It gave the “conversation” an ebb and flow, engaging the audience and making us want to hear more.
If you’re like me, today’s “conversations,” particularly when it comes to business, are often done by email, and it’s pretty difficult to infuse an email with the many facets of a dynamic conversation. Even when I need to speak with a colleague, chances are I turn to my email first to set up a time to schedule a phone call or meeting. It’s no wonder a recent report on emails estimated that in 2015, the average number of worldwide business emails was 122 per user, per day, and the number just keeps growing.
Some pundits have predicted the demise of email because it can be clunky. However, I actually quite like it, and I am optimistic it will evolve into a more collaborative, versatile tool that better facilitates the rapidly changing way we are choosing to work.
A few things I have always wished for email to have already come true. With the use of a shared inbox, you can now assign emails as tasks to your teammates. This is special for me as I do not have to forward the email or write a note to assign it to someone.
In fact, I have an Email 2.0 Wishlist, a handful of suggestions that re-envision email as a tool that keeps everyone talking – and collaborating.
Wish 1: Emails that can be edited after sending
I once had a colleague remark, “I think you just polished off more work in one week than most people get through in a month!” As the owner of a digital marketing agency, work is fast-paced, time sensitive and quite frankly, never-ending. As a result, my emails are fast-paced, time sensitive and quite frankly, never-ending! If I make a mistake and hit the send button, my only option is to send a second email and explain my mistake to the entire email chain. If the topic is important, changes to previous emails are easily lost in the chain. Similar to documents in Google Drive, I wish I had the option to edit my emails after sending. Review and edit modes or different colors to highlight the changes would be fine. Everyone can see what was amended, and I wouldn’t have to send another email.
Wish 2: Emails that generate attachment links
Whether it is a video file or high-resolution photo, large attachments are problematic for email transmissions. Typically, my team members put large files in Google Drive, a cloud-based file storage system, and add the Drive link to an email. An alternative is to generate an email with the link right from Google Drive. The first method adds an extra step because my team has to put the document in the cloud and then pull the link. The second method separates the document from my original email chain. I wish email integrated with Google Drive such that when sending an email with a large attachment, the email service would take the file and add it my Drive. It would then generate a link in the email automatically, in lieu of the attachment itself.
Wish 3: Emails with embedded voice files
What if we wanted to remark, “Can we talk” in an email? Chances are it wouldn’t have quite the same zing in electronic form as it does in conversation. Similar to the way that Google Drive allows a user to add comments to documents, I wish I could add a voice comment or file to my email – even better, to a word or line highlighted in the email. Some topics really need to be verbally explained, not typed. Voice files attached like comments would be incredibly useful. The email recipient would just click on the voice file, and voilà, a bit more explanation is at hand.
Wish 4: Emails that integrate with Add to Calendar
Add to Calendar is a popular calendar application that allows a user to create a calendar event and invite other users. The way it works is you add a meeting or event to your calendar. Next, you send a meeting request or alternatively, generate a calendar link and add the link directly to your email. When the link is opened by the recipients, their Gmail, Outlook or iCal calendars will auto-populate with the date, time and other meeting details. I wish I had the option to insert an Add to Calendar link right from my email in just the same way I can insert an attachment. Once I click an Add to Calendar icon in my email menu bar, I would add a few details, and an Add to Calendar link would be created and attached to the email plus added to my calendar too!
Wish 5: Emails that generate reminders
The difficulty with using email for complex projects is that the email chain just gets longer and longer, especially for groups with many participants and inputs. Invariably, important information gets buried within the long chain of emails. When I receive an email, I wish I could highlight a word or phrase in the email and a reminder would be generated from the text and sent right to my to-do list. The reminder would automatically reference the email and link back to it. By allowing me to create a reminder based on keywords or phrases in the email, I can save time toggling to and from a to-do, reminder or calendar app, plus reference a link back to the original email should I ever get confused.
Wish 6: Emails with click-and-file attachments
Often, my team will receive graphic design assets, videos or documents attached to an email. Over time, it can be impossible to go back and locate a specific email with the attachment that is needed. As a rule of thumb, my team immediately puts all documents that we receive in the cloud where we can jointly work on them and organize the information. However, the process of saving an email attachment into cloud storage takes a few clicks. I wish I could right-click on the attachment, see my list of cloud-based folders and drop the attachment right into my folder of choice. The attachment would be a new document in Google Drive, for example, and it would be timestamped and linked back to the original email. In this way, I can put important attachments into the cloud quickly and utilize my existing folder system.
Wish 7: Emails with one-click unsubscribe
Marketing automation emails are easy to identify. The messaging is generic. The email is “personalized” by the system, yet often the first name will be missing or spelled incorrectly. Just this week, I received, “Hi ,” and “Hi Resourceful,” on two different emails–marketing automation in both cases. Personally, I am relentless in unsubscribing and then deleting marketing automation emails. I wish I could unsubscribe from marketing emails that I receive with one click as opposed to being redirected to a web page where I am then asked to confirm my wish to unsubscribe – and explain why!
“What I was doing was providing a way for people to communicate with other people.”
Sadly, the tech community lost Raymond Tomlinson, the inventor of email and a technology visionary, in March of this year. While accepting an award in 2012, he stated that he never understood the profound impact email would have, but he did know, “What I was doing was providing a way for people to communicate with other people.”
Since Tomlinson invented email in 1971, how marvelously lucky we have all been to have email to help us communicate. It keeps us talking; that’s for sure. My Email 2.0 Wishlist would go a step further and put email in the forefront of collaborative tools in the workplace. Email would support richer conversations, assist us in organizing the endless stream of documents we receive every day, and help us work faster and smarter.
So yes, we can talk with email; but one day, I am hopeful we will also do much more.