Email was at the centre of a number of foul-ups last year. And with its very future in doubt, what’s in store for the technology? Email expert Monica Seeley offers her predictions.

People now receive on average 110 emails per day, according to a study from research company Radicati. My own figures suggest the European trend is nearer 70 emails.

Whatever the precise number of emails you receive daily, the chances are it’s still far too high and you end up failing to process them all properly.

Add to this problem the expectation of 25 per cent of business users for an email response within an hour, and it’s little wonder that last year held its usual share of email disasters.

Despite the rise of social media, email will continue to dominate the landscape for auditable serious business communications

Despite the rise of social media, email will continue to dominate the landscape for auditable serious business communicationsPhoto: Shutterstock

For example, in June the Information Commissioner fined Surrey Council £120,000 for breaching the Data Protection Act by sending sensitive emails to the wrong people. And of course famously we had the mother-in-law’s email to her future daughter-in-law which, while not involving business email, highlights how quickly hate email can go viral.

Then we had the Blackberry Crumble server problems in October, which left many users bereft of email and climbing up the wall in frustration.

These are just some of the more prominent email disasters, some of which have cost organisations dearly. In addition over the past year I have seen organisations losing up to 75 minutes per day per person simply through trying to process too much unnecessary email.

Looking at the trends and numbers suggests that email is the medium of choice for business communications and will be with us for at least another three to five years.

No doubt we will see a rise in the use of social media for marketing and broadcast type messages, but for auditable serious business communications email will continue to dominate the communications landscape.

What might 2012 hold for email? Here are my five predictions.

1. Email charters will grow in use and popularity

More organisations will adopt an email charter as they seek to enable people to change their email behaviour to improve productivity and combat email overload – and the stress which accompanies email overload.

2. Email archiving will remain important

Businesses continue to need to be able to save and find key emails that contain corporate history. Many may have implemented enterprise email archiving systems but many organisations still rely on individuals to do their own archiving on their own hard disk.

This approach often leads to the loss of valuable emails, which is costly to the organisation if they, say, contain evidence needed to defend itself in a legal dispute. Furthermore the best software is rendered useless if the users themselves do not…

…understand how to use it and what to retain and, conversely, what to destroy.

3. Email etiquette will be increasingly important in retaining clients

In a second a poorly written email can destroy a valuable relationship built over many years. In this highly competitive environment, as businesses strive to differentiate themselves, reinforce brand image and build customer satisfaction, outstanding email etiquette will play an increasingly important role.

4. Effective personal email management will become increasingly important

This issue includes both how you manage your inbox and how you use the email software to help you. Many people still do not use their email software to full advantage.

Software upgrades – for example, Outlook 2003 to 2010 – can be a major change for users. For those less technically inclined, valuable time can be wasted in trying to fathom where once-familiar functions are to be found in the new version.

5. Compliance and security will continue to dominate agendas

First, as computer crime rises, so too will the cost of cleaning up. Secondly, email evidence is playing an increasingly important part in any enquiry into wrongdoing, be it in the public or private sector.

Thirdly, the proliferation of personal mobile devices at work will continue unabated, posing security issues.

How can you help your organisation and your users make more effective use of email in 2012? Here are four challenges for you and for directors of HR and corporate communications.

  • Does your organisation have an email charter that lays out concisely what is acceptable email behaviour?
  • Do you have a suitable email best practice training programme to help users save time and use the email systems properly – from the basic email client to more sophisticated archiving and encryption applications?
  • Are your users absolutely clear about what emails to retain and for how long, and which to destroy?
  • Is your email and social networking acceptable usage policy up to date?

Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, and has just written her third book Brilliant Email published by Pearson. You can follow her daily email tips and hints on Twitter.