Imagine coming into work tomorrow, sitting down at your desk, and not having any emails to read. For most of us, this would invoke either a cold sweat or an immediate call to IT asking why the email server is down. However, while you’re in this fantasy realm, consider what it would be like if you didn’t have any emails to respond to all day, and did not have the ability to compose any emails yourself. How would you perform your job (which is not dealing with emails, by the way)?
Email overload is an all too common experience in our lives. A number of studies have shown that dealing with emails takes up to 25% of the average person’s work day. Think about would you could do with an extra couple of hours every day.
Some organizations, such as Altos in Europe, recognizing this drain on worker efficiency, have eliminated all internal email (see the article in Forbes). This is certainly a radical and heavy handed approach (and may cause an increase in appointments to therapists), but eliminating email cold turkey has been shown to reap benefits. Other organizations that see email as the devil incarnate have taken to educating users on more appropriate email usage, while at the same time providing alternatives to email. The simples substitute is instant-message type tools that log conversations (such as Yammer). Although these don’t do much to help ease the intrusiveness of emails, they are limited to short messages, and typically are sent to a single person, eliminating the ‘reply all’ scourge.
However, more progressive tools put a whole new spin on why we send emails in the first place. Except for those annoying “baby shower” type announcements, emails generally relate to something you are working on (i.e. a project). Rather than concentrating on the messaging environment (the email), email alternatives concentrate on the message as it relates to the project.
Some organizations have develop their own internal project oriented email alternatives, such as Genome, a social networking task management system designed by Canadian digital marketing firm Klick Health. One key aspect of Genome is that it’s designed to personalize the information presented to each user, so that employees can quickly focus on what they need without wading through clutter.
Other organizations are using off the shelf tools, sometimes combining several commercial products into a single, unified solution. One example is Seva, a retail outlet located in over 100 Walmarts in the U.S. They use a combination of FaceTime, instant messaging, Dropbox, and Fuze Meeting to communicate internally. There is no internal email at all at Seva.
The big boys are not ignoring the email dilemma either. Microsoft Lync, for example, offers instant messaging with archiving and security functions, two features necessary if internal communications are to move away from email. As part of their Office365 family, with SharePoint Online and OneDrive, Lync could be used as an alternative for internal communications.
While there is no single solution to replace email (yet), one thing is certain. With ever increasing ways to communicate digitally, and the trend among younger people entering the work force to prefer instant messaging and social networking as their communications mediums, email is on its way out. Ten years from now, email will seem as archaic as faxes seem today.