Last week I got an email sharing an article from the Wall Street Journal titled How I Tamed the Email Beast at Work. I receive these kinds of notes often because I work for a collaboration software company, and like most collaboration companies we wage a quixotic battle against email. Slack still pops up in the news with headlines touting their email killing superpowers. In our bloodlust have we really stopped to ask ourselves why we want to kill email? If you think about it long enough, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that email is the scape goat for our own bad behavior. Instead of killing email, we ought to save email from ourselves.
First a confession, I love email. With email I can reach out to just about any person on the planet. With email I can make connections across time and geography that wouldn’t be possible without email. I’m also an inbox zero guy. I have been for 10 years. Nothing gets left in any of my inboxes, and at some jobs that’s been harder than others. Every message is touched however briefly. I freely admit maintaining an empty inbox is not the best way to spend my productive time. We receive more emails per day than we should. People email when they should call, people email when they could have googled it, people email you because they can, and people email when they’re bored. The problem isn’t the medium… the problem exists between the chair and the keyboard.
Alexandra Samuel for the Wall Street Journal nutshells the problem quite well:
"But most of the emails I receive are still doing work that would be better handled some other way. The more we use the right tool for each purpose, the more we’ll reduce our overall communications volume — and the more we can appreciate email when it serves its appropriate purpose."
That’s right. We’re doing email wrong. We want to kill email because we’ve been asking too much of email for years. I’ll let Alexandra Samuel break it down again:
"Traditional email comes along with the culture and expectations of letter writing. Chief among those expectations is the idea that you will read each message more or less when it arrives, and respond in a timely manner…. That letter-writing culture just doesn’t reflect the way we work today. Much of the time, when we’re working with other people, we are exchanging quick, short messages in pursuit of timely responses; in that context, email is a slow and burdensome form of conversation."
So you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Great! I’ll just download all these different communication tools, one for each situation and message style, and start communicating properly!” If only it were that easy. It only takes a minute to look at #slacklash to see our bad email behavior is just carrying over to other applications and tools.
As we consider which tools to use to tame the email beast, we should look to unified solutions that offer us options to connect in different ways as appropriate for the message and situation. Collaboration tools should let you speak with, chat, long form message, and see your coworkers at your convenience and theirs. A blend of synchronous and asynchronous communication, of which email can be a piece, will form the cornerstone of modern collaboration.
We can’t stop there though. Conversation is only half of the equation. Conversations don’t equal work product, which leaves openings for more complete solutions that pair work product (content) and context.
Why do we want to kill email? Because we rely on it too heavily. What will replace email? Probably not chat. And what tool do we really need? People need a real, integrated collaboration solution.
On a normal workday, I now receive less than 5 emails from my coworkers and vendors. That’s the power of moving your work and conversation to the right venue. You can always reach me at email@example.com but if we work together an @ mention or chat in Samepage is how we keep in touch.