Lee Timmins of Management Today lists ten reasons that he thinks ditching email is the way to go.
I heartily agree with one of the problems that Lee points out. Email by itself is not great for group collaboration. Lee’s other nine reasons are almost the exact opposite of what I believe is the case. Here is why nine of Lee’s reasons are actually reasons that ditching email is not the way to go. Then one about how email is poor for group collaboration, and how to solve that problem.
1 Time. The reason the average employee receives over 50 emails a day is that email is such an efficient means of communication. Before email, it was simply impossible to manage the amount of communication that we manage today. If you replace email with another medium, you will not make the communication go away. You will simply migrate the workload to another place. If you can find a medium that reduces the cost of communication below that of email, by the same process that brought us 50 emails a day, you will get even more communication.
2 Bad Management. Email has no monopoly on perfunctory exchanges. Poor management via email is not a fault with email, it is a fault with management.
3 Technology. I see no evidence that email is no longer the most efficient one-to-one and even one-to-many communication medium. Other media exist, and the web is great for one-to-all messages, but you have to check each one of them individually. The likelihood that you will forget to do that is managed how? By sending notifications to email. BYOD is an excellent argument in favour of email as all its flavours talk to each other.
4 Distraction. Email is as distracting as you let it be. But it has simple but powerful metadata that makes it very easy to parse. Good email enables you to assess it quickly without even opening it. Bad email you can quickly delete. We get more messages. Deal with it.
5 Stress. Email does not cause stress any more than telephones do. Work and conflict cause stress.
7 Communication. It is not rocket science that poorly worded or structured messages can take time to decipher. Once again, this is not email’s fault. Garbage in, garbage out applies to any communication medium. In fact, email is an excellent medium for taking time to prepare a communication. It by definition not real time, so you have more opportunity to think before you post. Of course email is not as rich a medium as face to face or video. And of course chat, microblogging, and many other media have their place. Let us just not dismiss email as inherently having any more problems than other media.
8 Prioritisation. Lee Timmins seems to have missed the conversation about email as an activity stream. Sure there are many other, and probably better activity streams, but email is the one we’ve got. The one we are all using all day every day. Whatever tool you use, you have to learn and manage it. Prioritisation is hard. I’ll bet you that finding people who don’t have well-developed hacks for prioritisation using email is harder.
9 Learning and Development. Yes, videos and learning resources are useful where the effort has gone into making them, and where they match the learning need at the time. But we know that most learning happens in context through interaction with others. Asking and answering questions, in other words. And email is fantastic for that.
10 Smarter Working. I don’t think anyone could argue with the idea of thinking about your work or even choosing better tools. There are many many tools for specialised task. Sadly, I think they all struggle from overwhelming competition from pretty much the most versatile generic communication tool we have ever had: email.
Which brings me to the one point that Lee makes that I agree with.
6 Collaboration. Yes, there are better tools for real time collaboration. For asynchronous collaboration among two or three people, email is great. But for group collaboration it sucks. And Lee is exactly right about why when he writes that “good inbox habits like filtering and storing messages in folders can hamper knowledge sharing”. Tucking group email away in a private store is of far less use than building a shared resource. Email suffers from the lack of a shared repository for a group. It also has no way to consistently ensure that messages are shared in a defined group.
In conclusion, email is a highly useful all purpose communication medium that is massively established in the world of work. It is very hard to get people to migrate from email to another medium. Email does not however provide support for group collaboration.
It is for exactly these reasons that OnlineGroups.Net built a web-based mailing list manager. Mailing list managers allow people to use email to collaborate in groups by providing an email address and an inbox for a group. OnlineGroups.Net enables people to participate using email or the web, in whatever combination they prefer. It provides a defined membership list and an online shared archives for message and files with configurable privacy.