By Holger Reisinger
E-mails are no longer the best way of sharing information or communicating with peers. It’s time to move to the next level and let e-mails die in peace and loving memory.
Even though some internal networks were operational in the early 60s, it’s generally acknowledged that the first e-mail was sent by Ray Tomlinson to himself in 1971. After a slow start, I guess it is reasonable to say that the e-mail has become one of the most success technological breakthroughs since that time. According to the Radicati Group (who does a lot of counting), we will send a total of some 191 billion e-mails in 2014. And they predict that we will reach 206 billion e-mails sent every day in 2017.
Given the long heritage and current tremendous success, e-mail seems to be here to stay. But if it was up to me, the age of the e-mail would be over. It’s time to let the old workhorse retire and look to the new and more productive communication platforms instead. It’s time to put the e-mail to rest.
The challenge with e-mail is that it’s reasonably good for sharing information – but it’s an incredibly poor collaboration tool. It is great for confirming and documenting decisions, but it is less ideal if you have not yet reached a conclusion to the matter. In that case, e-mailing back and forth can be very time consuming and fruitless when compared to having an actual conversation. Unfortunately, billions of people around the world see it the other way around. We use e-mail to collaborate. And with the invention of the cloud, where we all have access to our shared files 24/7, we have found smarter ways of problem-solving and sharing information.
E-mails cause misunderstandings, unnecessary discussion, and a general wastage of timeThis unfortunate mix-up is stealing our time and leads to unnecessary frustration. According to McKinsey, an average worker spends a staggering 28 hours a week reading and answering e-mails. And lots of research show how e-mails are more often misunderstood or misinterpreted than leading to clarity and progress.
At the same time, e-mails have liberated most of us from the burden of thinking for ourselves. We don’t have to talk to anyone anymore. You just send out an e-mail, and your informative work is done. On the receiving end, you don’t have to take responsibility for keeping yourself informed either. With a gazillion e-mails in your inbox, no one can really expect you to read them all…
A brave bunch of frontrunners have already figured out that this is the road to disaster. And these pioneers are already testing life after the e-mail for the rest of us.
Some have started off with the most destructive element of the e-mail: the copied e-mail string. You know, where anyone, with a swift click on one key, can include most of the company in an e-mail string about a subject which should have been dealt with in a more meaningful conversation between two people at the very beginning. Broadcasting of e-mails is a major time killer. That’s why Peter Hughes of Cisco has banned the string-mail practice altogether, even issuing fines to the perpetrators.
Other companies go after the traditional e-mails. The IT company, ATOS, is planning on banning e-mails altogether. However, given the dependency on e-mails, the company has issued an extended timeline where e-mails can still be sent but should be brought down to a bare minimum. They even appointed a set of ambassadors – called Zero-Heroes - to help their colleagues stop the practice. Others have decided to quit e-mails one week a month or shut down the e-mail servers at specific periods of time every day.
There are plenty of alternativesWhat’s the alternative then? Well, there are two important routes. For communication purposes we need the old real-time conversations – however, in a more suitable digital format. Video messaging and meetings are much better at conveying ideas, thoughts, and emotions. And if you simply must broadcast your thoughts, use Twitter or Shortmail, which limit your rants to a tolerable 140 or 500 characters, depending on which one you choose.
For information sharing, all documents belong in the cloud, and for day-to-day chatting, the format must be social and searchable. According to McKinsey, using social media technologies, such as wikis and workplace collaboration tools such as Yammer, echo.it or Chatter, instead of e-mail could improve productivity by up to 30 percent. When you have a searchable repository of social messages, people wouldn't have to send e-mails asking questions that have already been answered.
The technology is there, and the first results from the pioneers are encouraging. So, just like the workhorses of the past got a well-deserved rest when motorized vehicles became widespread during the 20th century, so also should the e-mail retire in honor and step back for more efficient technologies.
The e-mail is dead. May it rest in peace!