It was only yesterday the blogosphere was abuzz with discussions on “Socializing” email where I opined if Google and Yahoo could turn their email systems and personalized home pages into social networks we could potentially see the end of email as we know it. Right now as I write this the number one story on Techmeme is the Slate article on The Death Of Email. While the Slate article talks about the decline in email usage in the context of teenagers using IM, social networks and micro blogging tools like Twitter to stay in touch with their friends I think it’s also a good time to examine the role of email at the work place today.
Many of us above the age of 25 can probably recall the ah-ha moment we had when we sent out our first email message (probably a couple of lines) and received a reply almost instantaneously - just to put it in context, instantaneous in those days was anywhere between a couple of hours to the next day depending on how responsive your SMTP server was! And as email evolved into a business tool we were all equally amazed at how efficient we became at the work place.
Today email is ubiquitous as the coffee machine in the kitchenette at the office and like we need coffee to get through the work day we cannot live without email. I use the coffee analogy deliberately because email at the workplace today has become more of an addiction for a lot of people. When I login in the morning I typically have anywhere between 30 and 50 new messages and usually about 80% of them are informational and not requiring action. If someone has time to write an email that is more than say 70 words then IMO they have too much time on their hands and their job function needs to be scrutinized. Another thing I have noticed lately is email is used quite a bit by people who fly under the radar so to speak. Send a few emails everyday, cc a bunch of people (that matter) and viola you give out the appearance that you’re actually getting something accomplished. The point I’m trying to make is IMO email is misused at the work place and rather than making people efficient it has the opposite effect. We spend a good chunk of our work day responding to emails and writing new ones and actually getting very little accomplished in terms of real work that is measurable and contributes to the bottom line.
I think it’s time to phase out email from the work place because it’s become more of a nuisance to those of us who actually want to accomplish something and replace it with something else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for effective communication and keeping people in the loop etc. and email is better than nothing but as technology evolves and we have applications like social networks and IM being used extensively outside the workplace I think it’s time to start integrating them into the office as well. I for one find myself using IM effectively at work and most IM clients these days have an editable “Status” drop-down so you can broadcast your status (FaceBook style) and in addition to having real time conversations you can let people know what you’re up to. You can also transfer files and documents securely via the chat client. I only use email if I need to save or record something for future reference.
The whole concept of social networking I think could have a huge impact at the work place. For starters you have one nicely integrated messaging system so you can do away with the email and chat clients. The profound difference however is that social networks enable you to participate in a virtual team or community and IMO that is conducive to the business environment - we all belong to a team at work and we interact with our team members. Email on the other hand was not designed with the community in mind rather it’s based on an “account” and you can send and receive emails from any account. In a social network members are less inclined to send long verbose messages because you’re having a conversation and not presenting a dissertation so you can eliminate a lot of clutter and “get to the point”.
Realistically speaking I don’t think email will be phased out of the workplace anytime soon. It’s heavily entrenched in all facets and processes inside the workplace. At least we’re having a debate about it and that’s a good opener!