COMMUNICATIONS

What did we do before e-mail? It has revolutionised communication - but is it a blessing or a curse?

Formal letters and memos have given way to brief e-mails, which elicit almost immediate answers.

Once you only dealt with e-mails at work but with the advent of mobile e-mail devices such as BlackBerry, there is no escaping them. Many weary executives' relaxing breaks have been interrupted by increasingly angry e-mails from their chair.

But do e-mails make for better communication? Not necessarily.

They are swift. but their brevity and lack of social niceties mean they are often curt to the point of rudeness.

Because e-mails are seen as informal they are often indiscreet and inappropriate. You also have no control over whether your e-mail is forwarded. An indiscreet note can be around the world in minutes - remember the unfortunate city trader who found her love life subjected to global media scrutiny.

All e-mails are disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act and could find a much wider audience than you intended. So be careful what off-the-cuff personal comments you include in work messages.

E-mail is also a barrier to verbal communication. It has replaced the telephone and that is not good. It is much better to talk to someone - it aids understanding, goodwill and interpersonal relationships.

There is a mistaken belief that if you have e-mailed someone, they will have read it. With global 'all staff' e-mails it is rarely so.

Many ward-based staff share terminals and therefore have limited access. Others do not have printers and are unlikely to read or respond to long e-mails, especially if they have attachments that need printing out.

You can change things. Declare one day of the week e-mail free, then pick up the phone or better still talk to people face-to-face.