Small Business Sunday: Why Email Is Terrible for Group Communication

Email is something many of us spend a major part of our day focused on. Yes, who would have thought that the concept of sending letters which are received daily would become accelerated to a realtime communication mechanism? Email has undoubtedly improved communication, making correspondence between someone in the same city as you as easy as communicating with someone half way across the world. While email is absolutely necessary, I think it often gets stretched too far.

In some cases email is used like a chat/conversation mechanism for groups. Multiple people trying to share ideas, get feedback, and take action based on dozens of emails back-and-forth. We’ve all been there, someone sends one email to a group, one person responds, then the next, etc. until you have an epically long thread that you have to read from the bottom back up.

Along the way through each person’s addition to the conversation is a email header, often their signature, in some cases you’ll see those “<<” or “>>” symbol before the text. Indenting can be strange, understanding the timing of each means sifting through the email headers. At the end of the day it really isn’t the best way to communicate with a group.

While there are a number of solutions to this problem my personal favorite is Basecamp.

basecampBasecamp is a really slick project management system with a slick approach to communicating and sharing files with a team. I am not being paid to write about Basecamp and don’t have any affiliate links hidden within this post, I actually just think Basecamp is really damn cool. I think this is the point, as a company that you should consider yourself having made something truly useful, when people will not only pay for it, but also endorse it, write about it, and recommend it to others without any influence whatsoever.

Okay, onto why I like Basecamp:

  • One centralized place for the group to login and communicate
  • Messaging system that is better than standard email for communication
  • Group calendar
  • Detailed To-Do System
  • Whiteboard to share ideas
  • Simple file-sharing
You still need email, don’t get me wrong, email isn’t going anywhere. However if you’re collaborating with a group email probably isn’t the best answer. It gets the job done but drowns your conversation in a sea of unrelated mails, threads in a difficult way to read, and let’s face it, if you get the message after twenty people have added their opinion you’ve created quite a project for yourself!
Of course one of the biggest things to realize is that Basecamp doesn’t solve all your problems. You still should be communicating over the phone and in-person when possible. Basecamp can help you work more efficiently digitally but if you only communicate digitally you’re missing-out on the value of real human interaction. Some people ask why I will travel to another country to negotiate a deal rather than do it over email or video-conferencing. There is no replacement for actually being there, but there is a way groups can communicate better, and the answer is not more emails!

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