Is email here to stay?

This post from @ballantine70 hit on a favourite topic of mine: Five hurdles between us and the death of email. Are we doomed to suffer with email for ever? What gives email its staying power? And am I missing something which explains its popularity despite the regular complaints I hear about “email overload”?

Personally, I think that the biggest weaknesses of email are:

1. The assumed SLA

‘I sent you an email so I expected that….’.

I think that this is one of the main reasons that people become overwhelmed by email, and also for work getting stuck as people wait for replies rather than finding more effective ways to collaborate with their colleagues. (I once heard this described as ‘trying to deliver a project by mail order’)

2. The escalation effect

It seems to me that email is often written as casually as an off the cuff text message, and then read as seriously as a memo from the Chief Exec. This mismatch often seems to result in major rows (and also potentially long term working relationship issues) that wouldn’t happen if the issue had been discussed with a less formal approach (by which I mean a quick call or chat — but I’m also seeing brilliant examples of how instant messaging and social media tools can work really well in a business environment too).

3. The time vortex of pseudo-collaboration

I dread to think how much time gets lost in business as people try to knit complex discussions held by email and multiple versions of documents shared by email back together into a coherent form. And that’s before you factor in how much valuable stuff also inevitably gets lost in the process…

A joined up instant message thread, comments on a social media post, and genuine collaboration working together on a single document are transformational in their impact on the pace and quality of work.

We’ve been seeing brilliant examples of how teams are using Hangouts instant messaging and video meetings, Google+ and real-time collaboration on documents to totally change how they work together — for the better. And this includes working with partner organisations. It’s really exciting to see how simple, user friendly, web based tools are helping to make work more collaborative and more productive.

I think Matt’s absolutely right about the importance and the sticking power of email, but I’m also convinced that there’s a better way to get work done now that we’re well into the 21st Century. My favourite initiative is ‘Project Zero’ which is the name that one of our front line service teams have given to their plan to banish email and use better tools for their internal collaboration and communication. It’s not the kind of thing you’d typically associate with working in local government, but I have a feeling that they’ll make it work! 😀