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The Problem with Email as a Collaboration Tool

Scan the technology news five years ago, and you would have found dozens of articles announcing the death of email, being replaced by various social technologies. Email as a collaboration tool was under attack. On the surface, it certainly appeared that it was on the way out. Since 2010, the total volume of e-mail has dropped anywhere from 10 percent (comScore) to 18 percent (McKinsey). And yet over the same period, more than 1 billion new email addresses have been created, with 3-times the number of consumer email accounts than business accounts.

Think about it: most people who work in information technology alone have multiple personal as well as business accounts. We use email addresses as a secure way to identify and authenticate our users. Most systems and tools we interact with send acknowledgements and digital confirmations via email every time we interact. The problem is not the number of accounts and volume of emails, but with our need for synchronous and asynchronous communication tools. In short, there is an underlying shift underway in how we collaborate.

Beezy understands and solves the problem of email as a collaboration tool

Email is undoubtedly a powerful tool that helps us communicate point-to-point with virtually anyone on the planet. A McKinsey study from 2012 found that over 25% of the average business user’s time was spent processing email. On average, users check email from 5-20 times per day. And let us not forget that it was one of the original “killer apps” that made the Internet grow so rapidly — and it remains the common method for online communication. But having said that, email as a collaboration tool is being replaced by more flexible and dynamic technology.

Back in 2011, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “High school kids don’t use email, they use SMS a lot. People want lighter weight things like SMS and IM to message each other.” And that’s certainly true. A new generation of information workers does not open their email account by default at the start of their day. They may still have an account, but their preference is for the text message, direct message via Facebook or Twitter, or a number of other synchronous communication tools that are entering the market.

Collaboration today is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication, with text-based conversations and threaded discussions, content creation and sharing, and real-time video and co-editing capabilities.

Email has become a dinosaur. The latest tools are more direct, more concentrated, and more efficient. Historically, email was a workload in and of itself. You set aside time in your day to compose and read messages. But the nature of these newer technologies is that they can be tailored to fit any time, any device, depending on your needs. Many interactions begin in one format — a text – and then quickly move to other tools. Same conversation, different mediums. In fact, that describes most of my daily interactions.

Of course, email still has its advantages: they are easy to track, to store, and to re-share. Some of the new text and instant messaging tools feel ephemeral—you read them, and then Poof! they’re gone. Some organizations struggle to understand how to capture these exchanges for compliance and security purposes, and have justified fears that intellectual property could be going out the door. Email still feels like something very much real, something you can search and return to later when you need it.

There is no right or wrong level of email usage. Even Microsoft has shown conflicting strategies, having invested billions in social technologies — only to seemingly reverse direction in support of new email-based capabilities. Instead, the product teams in Redmond have decided to support multiple, sometimes overlapping technologies with the idea that different organizations have different collaboration needs — and to provide platforms to support and enable these different “modalities” of collaboration.

In other words, let the customer decide which tools best fit their end user and customer needs.

As more and more of our workloads and information sharing move to the cloud, and as our modes of customer, partner, and team collaboration move toward socially-based communication tools, we will undoubtedly see email usage further decline.

Some companies are actively looking at ways they can decrease the use of email in the work environment, recognizing that many of the newer collaboration platforms are better suited for collaboration around tasks, projects, product and service development, and other forms of internal communication. While these companies may still use email for notifications and other communication needs, the majority of “conversation” is moving away from the email inbox and into social networking, messaging, and document collaboration solutions as offered by platforms such as SharePoint and the rapidly growing Office 365.

What makes these new platforms superior to email as a collaboration tool are their adaptability. They often work with users outside of the business, such as with external design partners, sub-contractors, and other vendors that may be necessary for a project — but require more security and oversight than can be managed through email alone. Of course, email will remain a core workload within even this evolving world view of collaboration, because it still has the power to connect to a person, a message, or an idea just about anywhere in the world.

Email may no longer be “the” collaboration tool of choice, but it will long remain part of the overall solution.

As a leading provider of advanced collaboration capabilities for the enterprise, Beezy helps our customers connect-the-dots across the entire Microsoft productivity stack. But while email continues to be an important part of your strategy, your employees are increasingly using other tools to collaborate — whether they are approved and supported, or not. Collaboration works best when all the parts of the system work together, and that’s what we do. Beezy extends and enhances the features within SharePoint and Office 365 to give your employees the tools they want and need, within a SharePoint environment that is secure and managed.

Contact us today to schedule your personalized demo.

Christian Buckley

Christian Buckley

Chief Marketing Officer for Beezy. Passionate about all things collaboration & social. Office365 MVP.

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