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The Increasing Importance of Emails

Brought to you by Exclaimer

We spend every day using email, whether we like it or not. It’s become so intrinsic to modern life that we all take it for granted. Even with the rise of social media, communicating via mobile devices and instant messaging, email is still the main tool used throughout the business world - a fact unlikely to change in the near future.

But how did we get here? Why is email still so important? What is its future? And is its usage and dependency on the decrease or the rise? Let's look at email through a clearer lens free of marketing hype or naysayers and lay out its place in the future of written communications.

The evolution of written communication

The written word has been with us for thousands of years. In ancient times, cultures used hieroglyphs, and in more recent centuries, society has been based on the ability to share knowledge and communicate via the written word.

Until the last hundred years or so, the written word has largely been accessible only for those who were educated and generally in the upper echelons of society. Correspondence was thought out, considered, and often denoted as official through the use of wax seals.

In modern times, as education became more accessible, so too did the written word. As transportation became faster and reached further, correspondence became more mainstream and gave rise to postal services – delivering letters to all pockets across the world. The wax seal gave way to the printed letterhead, denoting official correspondence from an individual or organization. The contents still would include handwriting and a signature.

The introduction of the typewriter increased the speed of correspondence further, but still carried with it a handwritten signature to signify that the letter was written (or at least dictated) by the person signing their name.

In the 1980s, this progressed even further with the introduction of word processors, computers, and printers. The fax machine also became commonplace and significantly reduced the time taken to deliver official correspondence.

In the 1990s, businesses saw the rise of desktop computers, laptops, and most importantly the Internet; bringing along with it electronic mail (email). It was in this period that electronic communications became more mainstream, with email becoming more and more accessible to the world.

While broadband connectivity was still in its infancy, a common practice was to compose emails offline, dial up to the Internet provider, send any emails queued up, and download any that were waiting to be read. Users would take their time to read and craft responses before dialing back up to send and receive again.

Microsoft Outlook 97 for email

The introduction of the always-on connection and higher speed services in the late 90s brought with it a change to how emails were sent and received. Due to this, it became more common to have a virtual conversation across the medium and to include more recipients – enter the now-overused CC field.

Popular email clients such as Pegasus Mail, Eudora, Lotus Notes, and Outlook made it easier and easier for users to communicate at a rapid pace. In the closing years of the last millennium, email had become common, accessible, and part of our daily lives.

Email continued to evolve with free online services such as Hotmail making it easy for consumers to have private email accounts, and the introduction of enterprise mail platforms such as Exchange Server making corporate communications faster and easier.

As technology progressed, the ability to operate email platforms became significantly cheaper and within the reach of any sized business.

By not having to rely on dialing up to the Internet regularly in order to exchange messages between internal and external recipients, email became a mainstream communications tool. The average corporate user started to rely on it as part of their daily job. As society progressed, so too did our reliance on email as a tool we needed to actually perform our jobs.

In more recent times, with the rise of mobile phones and ability to access our messages anywhere, society has created two areas of stress that tie directly back to emails: inability to send or receive emails when there is a technical issue, and conversely receiving too many messages where we struggle to keep up with a constant stream of notifications and messages.

Email has become so pervasive that it is somewhat tolerated in the modern business world to have meeting participants staring at their laptops working through emails instead of paying attention to the meeting at hand. It has also interfered with our personal lives where we continue to send and receive business communications in the evening and on weekends when we are with our families.

In modern times, when looking at cloud-based solutions like Office 365 (now Microsoft 365), often a business driver for its implementation is to remove on-premises server infrastructure or the need for future upgrades. The most common workload deployed out of the entire Office 365 product suite is Exchange Online – which is also usually the first migration priority. Even though other communication tools exist within the product suite such as Yammer and Microsoft Teams – email remains king.

The reality is that email has not evolved in any meaningful way since its inception. People generally know how to compose, send, reply, and delete emails. New functionality is introduced into the back-end to improve how the technology works, but users still work the same way.

Written communications in the modern world

In recent decades, classic written correspondence such as the fax or postal letter were able to break through our busy days to get our attention. They did this because on a daily basis we didn’t deal with a significant amount of written correspondence.

In an office, the fax machine would make a loud ring as an incoming transmission was received. Whoever collected the fax then placed it on the recipient’s desk or in their “in tray”. The same was and still is the case for written letters. Both pieces of correspondence consumed physical space, and the recipient would actually read and address them before eventually discarding them.

In current times, we receive the same types of correspondence all day every day, but as they are now electronic, they do not consume any physical space. We can quite easily ignore our ever-growing inboxes simply by switching to a different application.

Other forms of written communication have come along since email and have changed the way we live and work.

Initially, this was the Short Message Service (SMS) or, as it is more commonly referred to as, “texting”. This allowed us to send short bursts of information and to effectively conduct a lightweight conversation without having to speak to each other. While generally intended for small pieces of information, texting has now become commonplace for longer term conversations due to its easy stop-start nature; allowing users to converse at a pace they are comfortable with.

Woman using email on a phone

In the mid 2000s, we saw the rise of social networking and chat applications that aimed to broaden our audience, increase the speed of communications, as well as make the conversation more meaningful. These tools often push for a mobile-first strategy so as to allow users to communicate on-the-fly.

Even with this change, email now being available on mobile devices and able to send push notifications is still seen as a crucial tool for formal communications and correspondence, as well as subsequent conversations. On one hand, we can be reached more easily and respond anywhere – but on the other hand, we are still humans who have differing attention spans and priorities.

For many, email is seen as a conversation tool where short responses are acceptable, whereas for others it is seen as a formal correspondence tool. This is most evident in scenarios where a basic conversation can take a long period of time to occur due to different priorities and expectations.

The future of email

There are now over four billion business email users in the world. It is expected this count will grow by 4% until 2025. In 2017, the average employee received approximately 92 emails per day. By 2022, this grew to 121. Conversely, in 2017 the average employee only sent 32 messages per day, with this amount now sitting at 40.

Email has continued to grow expotentially, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020. Virtually everyone in the business world has it, so you can be almost guaranteed the ability to communicate between organizations using email. The reality is that email is not going anywhere for this specific reason. No other communication tool (other than the telephone) is as ubiquitous. While chats and conversations take place in other tools that suit the desired purpose, email remains the official and format tool for correspondence within and between organizations .

The perfect attachment to your business email

Using email signatures

How an email comes across is a public representation of the sender and the organization. While the electronic format does not require formal letterheads and wax seals – email signatures have become the virtual equivalent.

In many organizations, users still configure email signatures themselves, often by copying them from colleagues when first starting their job role. This can lead to poor branding – especially when different signatures are used between desktop, web and mobile clients and images used do not carry over correctly. It can also result in incorrect content being displayed as users are unfamiliar with how to modify hyperlinks for email addresses copied from colleagues.

Utilizing a professional email signature allows those who are responsible for corporate branding to ensure that their organization is properly represented the “official” correspondence modality of email. It allows the organization to enforce the electronic equivalent of both letterhead and wax seal is applied to all electronic correspondence.

Solutions such as Exclaimer allow organizations with email centrally control the appearance and application of emails – both internally and externally. Organizations can benefit from different signatures being applied based on rules and user attributes, such as time of day, department, recipient, and other conditions. These centralized controls allow IT departments and ultimately those responsible for brand management to ensure that every message has the correct messaging and brand identity, effectively the digital wax seal of approval, applied before being sent out to the world.

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