Memos used to be the reigning champions when it came to workplace communications, but today, they have become much less common. Many companies are going paperless, and even those that aren’t tend to use digital tools that lead to fewer memos in the workplace overall. So, the big question is: are memos still relevant, as newer tools start to take over? What is their role, and how do employees respond to them?
What is a Memo?
While most of us know what a memo is, or are at least are very familiar with the name, their purpose can sometimes get a little bit hazy. A memo is a physical communication tool: a printed letter that is distributed internally within a company. Memos are used for a number of purposes—to alert staff to an ongoing issue that needs to be corrected, to share news, or to announce changes. They are extremely versatile documents, but they are almost always printed and distributed internally.
Email is King
The memorandum’s biggest competition is email. One of the major reasons memos are disappearing from offices is that email has taken over. It’s easy and convenient to send an email, be it to the CEO of the company or to even the whole team. There’s no need now to print and distribute tens to hundreds of memos in most cases when an email will suffice.
With the growing popularity of office chat programs like slack and Hipchat, instant communication allows for feedback, news, and requests that don’t require a sheet of paper.
Memos Can Be Intimidating or Passive Aggressive
Though it isn’t always the case, there’s sometimes a negative perception surrounding memos. They’re not warm. They don’t include greetings. They’re often used to deliver reprimands and can come across as passive aggressive or intimidating—they’re just more formal than other, more modern means of communication.
Today’s managers are generally more focused on direct communication, and often prefer to communicate feedback to their team verbally, since it gives everyone a chance to ask questions, and it’s harder to read negatively into the situation. Low morale and low engagement are huge problems, and sending a memo can easily make the gossip start and the grumbling begin. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the medium’s fault: a passive aggressive email can just as easily have a negative impact on an employee’s day. However, the perception of these documents is often more negative overall than that of digital communications.
Many businesses have gone paperless, or as close to it as possible. There are good reasons for doing so: it saves money and it helps reduce waste. Most paper communications in the workplace just get tossed in the trash or the recycling bin—not really a win for businesses trying to go green. Additionally, storing data digitally means that it’s readily available—unlike the memo that may have ended up in a recycling bin.
Still Hanging On
So how are memos still hanging on? They’re still used in some offices, while others (like many startups) have never seen a printed memo since their founding. One of the main reasons memos still have a place in the office is because they get attention. They’re formal, professional, and support more formatting styles. For messages that need to have a lasting impact, a physical memo cuts through the email noise and gets attention. It doesn’t get lost in a cluttered inbox (though it can get lost in a cluttered desk. Memos are also a good option for a news board, since they can be pinned up for everyone to see, unlike an email which is delivered straight to the inbox.
Using Memos in the Workplace
Rethinking the role of memos? There are definitely perks to using them—in the right context. If you want people to pay attention to your memos, you should definitely make sure they’re well-written and used sparingly—they lose their power if used too often (not to mention the paper waste). Don’t forget to back up the information digitally—there’s always going to be that person who doesn’t remember the information, and has conveniently not gotten the memo.
Ryan Ayers is a strategy and management consultant with over five years of experience in multiple industries including information technology, medical devices and logistics. Many clients call him the BizTech Guru. He is a freelance writer on the side and lover of all things related to business, technology, innovation and the LA Clippers.
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