Critical information shouldn’t go via email exclusively

Sure, email is an easy way to send important information out to a large number of people. It’s almost too easy, and many people’s definition of “important” borders on ridiculous. The marginal cost in computing resources and effort to reach additional people is so tiny, it can be neglected in any reasonably sized organization. In many cases, targeting a specific subset of an organization is significantly harder than blasting everyone. For this reason (among several others) everyone gets too much email in the sense that the majority of it is either straight up spam, “important” information that we’re not interested in, or poorly targeted emails which don’t apply to us. I get tons of the latter at The Department, “To all Post-doctoral Research Staff,” (I’m a grad student; you’d think they’d have separate lists).

It’s easy to get overzealous in clearing your inbox when you come back from an afternoon away from your desk. I’m very good about reading my email, but enough is enough. Anything with that stupid red exclamation point or the capitalized words IMPORTANT or PLEASE READ in the subject line is on its way to the Deleted Items folder faster than my average ping to There are people who let emails sit unread and undeleted in their inbox for days, nay weeks. Which brings me, finally to my thesis:

You can’t depend on email to convey critical information, especially if it is time sensitive.

Yes, email is easy. Yes, finding other ways of communicating with your fellow humans feels so 1989. But email is a congested medium and people find that a lot of it just wastes their time. Don’t blame your users for this! The solution is not to tell them they need to pay more attention to their email. The solution is for you to pay more attention to them. Take a multi-pronged approach which is appropriate to your organization. Are there noticeboards? Information screens? Put notes in people’s mailboxes, or post extremely critical information on the door as they walk in. Like this guy:

electrical shutdown

This, on the door to our office, got my attention. They were going to shut down the power the next day–would I have seen the email in time? Maybe. Would I have realized it meant me before deleting it? Maybe. Alan in building services, well done.

Sometimes low-tech is better than high-tech.


One Response to “Critical information shouldn’t go via email exclusively”

  1. Greg Says:

    Nice one đŸ™‚

    Though, i wasn’t quite a good user just yet…. I expected my computer to be shut down today, because all the information I kept that it will happen on “Friday”…. so had to go out and check it again: __which___ Friday? But at least I did know something will be going on….

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