Why Email Sucks for Team Communication

I recently received an email from a gentleman — let’s call him Zig — that went like this:

I was passed your details by my colleague [redacted] and I have gone through some of your site and would like to have a conversation with you.

Allow me to explain a bit of what we do.

We offer encrypted email and secure cloud collaboration tools.

All data is stored exclusively in [redacted] and protected by a unique combination of terms of services, law, operational principles and technology.


Pretty much what Google does with your data every day.

Our main selling point is that all companies should secure their communications and we protect companies from corporate espionage, foreign governments, with no back doors and no compromises at a very reasonable price.

I read in your email [which is reproduced below] that you should not rely on email.

It’s practically all we do being an encrypted email service.

I would like to hear your thoughts.

Here is my reply to Zig’s message:

Hi Zig,

Thanks for your message. 🙂

I just spent some time reading on your site and I believe I’m clear on what you offer.

You wrote:

I read in your link below that you should not rely on email, it’s practically all we do being an encrypted email service. I would like to hear your thoughts.

My experience — both in my own businesses and in the businesses of clients with whom I’ve worked — has been that email is an inefficient tool for, specifically, internal communication.


There are several reasons why that applies equally regardless of whether or not your email solution is encrypted:

1 – It’s often the case that your email inbox is home to many different types of items, including personal messages, work-related messages, promotional communications, billing reminders, etc.

So when you open your email inbox with the intention to do something related to your work, you’re liable to get distracted along the way by a “more interesting” message in your inbox.

In general, anything new is more interesting than whatever it is you’re currently doing.

Why Email Sucks for Team CommunicationClick To Tweet

So in this environment you’re more likely to incur what psychologists call a cognitive switching penalty that negatively impacts your focus and productivity.

I realize that you can combat this situation by using work-only email addresses but it doesn’t remedy the other issues presented anon.

2 – I’m not familiar with the [redacted] email app so my comment here may not be completely relevant.

However, with most email clients it’s the case that searching for, finding and sorting messages — especially relevant messages from your team — is, let’s say, less than intuitive.

Compared with a team chat solution like Slack, for example, the difference is night and day in terms of how quickly you can locate conversations.

For example, Slack search displays the surrounding conversation in the search results so you can more easily recognize the chat you’re looking for.

In a team chat scenario, you also benefit from the inherent organization of:

A) group channels (#support, #general, #random, #recruitment, etc.)


B) private message channels with individual team members

…in which all messages are displayed in chronological order.

3 – Email doesn’t allow your team to resolve issues that require several back-and-forth messages as quickly as a team chat solution because the communication isn’t instant in the same way that a chat is instant.

team communication

Imagine you have 5 different but minor issues that 5 different team members bring to your attention.

In my experience, you can address them in a team chat environment within 5 minutes. Whereas via email it’ll take more like 20 minutes.

Not least of all because you don’t have to shuffle through several messages in your inbox.

4 – Email doesn’t have the ability to unite your team under one roof.

For instance, in my business (and in several of my clients’ businesses), Slack (or Intercom, or Teamwork, as the case may be), act as “hubs” for all team activity.

Because these apps integrate with other apps — either directly or with the help of a tool like Zapier — it’s easy to push relevant data into the chat, filter it so it’s only shown to the people who need it (and not shown to others who would only be distracted by it!), it therefore reduces, and sometimes eliminates entirely, the need to constantly switch between all of these different apps.

Fewer apps = fewer headaches.

5 – There’s an intangible sense of “team” that develops when everybody’s working together and within easy reach of one another in a chat room.

This is especially true for distributed, remote teams since it’s easy to feel like you’re less of a team member and more of a dispassionate contractor with this arrangement.


6. I could go on but I think you get my gist. 🙂

Again, my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt because it’s very much subject to change based upon the intricacies of your particular company and the nature of your operations.

All in all, I feel email best answers the question:

“How should I communicate with the outside world?”

But certainly not “how should I communicate with my team?”

So, that is the crux of my anti-email sentiment in this case.

7. It’s interesting that you should email me because a friend of mine — Alec Kinnear from FolioVision.com — is incredibly passionate about the topic of data security, especially as it pertains to security from government intrusion.

He left the following comment on one of my articles recently which you may find relevant:

Show Alec's Comment +

Great article. Quick warning: you'll lose a good part of your professional/American audience with this line: [redacted] It doesn't bother me at all. We aren't Slack users as we try to discourage chat.

Next warning: you are locking almost all businesses into a very Patriot Act, American heavy set of cloud providers. I.e. all business data. You are speaking to small and at the most medium sized businesses and the government hasn't gotten around to robbing us via business intelligence (they do on the large scale: the cloud is considered part of an American business intelligence advantage to multinationals: see Snowden). There is a chance that rogue actors within the system could get busy though taking the opportunities which top spooks haven't got time for.

I'd suggest offering your system in an American cloud and non-American cloud version.

Microsoft 10 is simply spyware and unfortunately Microsoft has done the same thing to 7, 8 and 8.1 with updates. Any responsible business should be removing all Microsoft OS from their operations. We'll probably cut back to two or three MS Windows 7 machines locked down against updates (we'll find other ways to protect them from viruses, like removing Internet Explorer).

I agree with the effect of building to sell, except that the mentality of building to sell is fundamentally corrupt and lazy. I think a business person has to be in love with his/her business to do it really well.

Next: you aren't covering consultancy. When people hire Foliovision they want Alec or Martin. Clients may and do like the rest of the team but they are after the innovation of the leaders which is not replaceable by a system.

In a fast moving field like internet marketing and software development, if you cut off the head, the body stops developing.

Look at Microsoft post-Gates: a gradual sinking ship until lately. Look at Apple post-Jobs: riding on the projects and ideas Jobs put in.

On a smaller scale, Freshbooks is mainly the creation of its founder Mike McDerment. His commitment to his customers and his ethical foundations (he refunded whole months in the first year if Freshbooks went down for a few hours), as well as a commitment to ease of use and open web standards (Freshbooks behaves better on more computers with less hassle than any other SAAS we use: worrying Freshbooks plan to replace their platform this summer) are not replaceable.

My examples do show that if you build good enough systems the company can continue along without you. But those are product companies not consultancies.

In a consultancy the plunge down is much faster. Look at advertising companies: it's mainly about the genius employees led by a genius leader (Grey was the boring gray exception to the rule: it was run just for the bottom line on systems).

Returning to software and web development, there are people trying to systematise creativity and innovation in a repeatable pattern. Take a look at Tomaž Zaman's and Per Esbensen's Codeable.io) which is kind of call girl development (with an agency making the dates). Nothing to stop a client setting up a permanent relationship or marrying the developer. Just like in real life. But in this case Zaman and Esbensen are selling the GFE not creating the innovation themselves. It's an interesting approach to development: high end outsourcing.

On reflection, looking at Codeable's pricing ($60/hour to $120/hour) at an enterprise level it's not high end but mid-market: an enterprise would not be comfortable with that much information and code going outside its four walls and control. So there's still a place for marriage in Babylon.

While the boundary between a consultancy and a product business remains blurry, any business owner should know where s/he stands. Trying to pretend a consultancy is an assembly line is nonsense. Systematisation has its place inside a consultancy too though: everything and anything which can be systematised should be.

Checklists play a big role at Foliovision, even on Martin and my desks.

People make systematisation out to be more complicated than it is, btw. Sytematisation at the root of it is just checklists.

Catch you later. Thanks for the good read.

8 – Zig, I hope I’ve interpreted your question correctly and given you a useful response.

I’d be interested to learn more about your business and what your current challenges are.

If that sounds fun, please schedule a call using the link below and we’ll make it happen:


p.s. I’m in Thailand so we’re on slightly different timelines but the Calendar above will handle that.

Thanks Zig, talk soon!