There are many reasons we embrace email as the primary form of workplace communication: it is easy to disseminate information to a broad group, it is more immediate in delivering information (compared to playing phone tag or in-person tag), it creates a “paper trail,” and it can be a more comfortable way to give feedback. For all its conveniences, and its reputation for making communication so much easier, it can also create more problems than it is worth.
For one, most emails represent matters that Steven Covey calls "urgent, but not important." Through a pop-up or alert, our attention is instantly drawn away from the business at hand to the business now flashing on our screen. The focus is broken, the mind is distracted, and, the next thing we know, we've abandoned the priority of Project A for the immediacy of Project B.
Also, written exchange are notorious for creating misunderstandings and straight-up miscommunications. They are the reason that emoticons exist. Any form of communication that requires a whole other support system to make it function really needs to be viewed with a critical eye.
We've all experienced the distraction and confusion that email can create, and can admit that email can be a real troublemaker at times. And, yet, very few of us have made any effort to reconsider our use of it. Why? In part because of all the reasons we noted in the introduction, but also simply out of habit. Changes are unlikely to happen unless we all agree to start talking about making them.
As a leader, you can assess your company's or department's usage: which messages require communication by email, which would benefit from a more personal approach to avoid unnecessary disruptions or misunderstandings, and which should always be in person? Discuss these with your team and come to a mutual agreement on how you will handle each going forward. Having these mental guidelines will help everyone think twice before they type.
You'll also need to consider new (or old) ways to communicate as you rely less on email. Once you're reminded of the efficiency that picking up the phone creates, or how much easier it is to come to an agreement in a face-to-face conversation, you might step away from the keyboard more often.
*Statistic source: mckinsey.com