The nature of work has changed since the introduction of email — our tools haven’t changed fast enough.
Since the development of the first electronic mail system (as part of ARPANET) in 1971, email has played an integral function in the way that people collaborate, coordinate, and — in other words, how they do their jobs. With half of the world’s population using email in 2019 and the number of email users projected to surpass 4.3 billion by the end of 2023, it’s clear that email has become a foundational means for digital communication — both within the workplace and without.
That’s not to say that email is still well-suited to the pace of work taking place in the highest levels of the private enterprise. The average office worker receives 121 emails on a daily basis. Over the course of a five-day workweek, that equates to a veritable deluge: more than 600 emails. And today, workflows are faster and more “real-time” in nature, and email represents neither a practical nor an efficient way of handling what it was designed to do.
Despite these inefficiencies, email isn’t going away anytime soon. However, with the widespread adoption of technologies like cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), the nature of collaboration is changing — as are the tools we use in support of collaboration.
No, email is not obsolete, yet. It’s just that other tools will capture much of the communication that’s currently passing between inboxes. Modern collaboration tools can introduce new layers of real-time, context-driven communication that email can’t offer.
Where Email Has Come Up Short
While email has become ubiquitous because of its relative ease, enterprise professionals are well aware of its shortcomings. Email is notoriously inefficient for larger teams collaborating on critical projects. With key decisions being made regularly on long chains and with multiple chains building up over numerous threads, it’s easy to get left behind and miss out on important developments if you’re not regularly checking and re-checking your inbox.
At the same time, email doesn’t make it easy to coordinate immediately between the discussions taking place and the tools used to get work done. Email systems are often sorely lacking when it comes to integrating seamlessly with various platforms and applications. Even the integration between Google Office and Gmail is rife with problems. The upshot is that employees must painfully move back and forth between ongoing conversations and the software they’ve invested in to get more work done in less time.
Moreover, email represents a relatively formal mode of communication — one that lacks both the pace of natural conversation as well as the spontaneity of face-to-face communication. This means that teams facing fire drills (whether literal or figurative) — are often forced to rely on an outdated tool to get the job done. For events that require unfamiliar teams to collaborate, and with no established hierarchy for doing so, large email chains can result in serious confusion.
While alternatives to email have been attempted — unified communications and enterprise social networking, for instance — they’ve failed to integrate into the modern enterprise. Unified communications such as online conferencing and instant messaging may be useful in certain circumstances, but they make it difficult to document and retain critical information in the long term. Enterprise social networking, for its part, has tried to map the success of social platforms to the workplace, but it hasn’t generated a similar level of enthusiasm as Facebook or Twitter.
How Workstream Collaboration Can Help
As enterprises and other organizations look to supplement email and bolster their tech stack, workstream collaboration has emerged as a much-needed option. Workstream collaboration synthesizes critical workplace assets such as messaging, file sharing, alerts, real-time video and audio, task management, and activity streams. What’s more, it makes all of these assets searchable in groups or channels that can be customized to fit the evolving needs of various teams.
While previous modes of workplace communication have offered bits and pieces of what workstream collaboration comprehensively unifies, they have lacked the collaborative workspace necessary for teams to truly excel in a digital environment. Compared with the frenzy of instant messaging and the disorganization of email, workstream collaboration allows for persistent, searchable communication that makes it easy for team members to participate in critical discussions and track decisions in real-time.
Workstream collaboration also makes it easier to access the tools necessary to execute against those decisions as soon as they’re made. With streamlined integrations across enterprise applications and relevant contextual information displayed in the workflow, workstream collaboration provides the kind of total visibility that employees need to stay on top of things in the fast-paced, modern workplace.
Why You Should Invest in Collaboration Tools
Ultimately, what’s most important is not necessarily determining whether email is dead. In fact, people have been speculating about the fate of email for years now, proclaiming it a dying mode of communication soon to be entirely obsolete — but those predictions haven’t really gone anywhere.
What’s more important is that although email persists, it’s no longer enough to satisfy the changing nature of work. Instead, new communication tools that get layered on top of existing platforms are needed to fit the specific needs of each workplace. Those tools are what will help enterprises truly stay ahead of the game. The modern workplace, like all iterations of the workplace that came before it, needs its own tools. Enterprises that want to operate in real-time need real-time collaboration tools — and the tool that best meets today’s needs is workstream collaboration.