Can We Finally End the Tyranny of Email?

It’s the tool we all hate but can’t seem to live without. We check our personal and work inboxes incessantly throughout the day and dream of reaching that impossible nirvana of “inbox zero.” Email has become an integral part of our lives, but some are beginning to question its merits. A few companies have even attempted to ban it completely for internal correspondence.

Email has become such an essential tool that we have to wonder if it is even possible to replace it. What would even take its place? It may not be viable with a single solution, but with the maturation of social and collaboration tools in the enterprise and rethinking customer touchpoints it could be possible to at least minimize email tyranny and possibly even end it entirely.

30% of workers’ time is taken up reading and responding to email.

What’s wrong with email? Email has been a great replacement to snail mail and interoffice memos, but at this point it has become more of a productivity killer than anything else. McKinsey estimates that 30% of workers’ time is taken up reading and responding to email. That was in 2012, so it’s not hard to imagine that number being even higher today. That’s a lot of time wasted on an almost entirely unproductive activity. There are much better ways to communicate, and using email just creates new problems.

Exec Communications
Executives have to deal with more communications than ever before, all thanks to email. Via hbr.org.

For one, many people use email as their daily productivity tool, using it to manage tasks, track projects, make notes to themselves, and send documents. Email is terrible at all those things; there is no good way to organize information, distractions arise when new emails come in, and email is notorious for exposing companies to legal liability. Solutions dedicated to each of these activities such as task managers, document management systems, and note taking apps are better options.

Email is also often used inappropriately, especially when it comes to the dreaded “Reply All” button. We’ve all made the mistake of hitting that button and blasting the entire company with our rant against the boss or invitation to a debauched happy hour. We’ve also been subject to the endless chain of replies that are relevant to two out of twenty recipients. Even though email has been around for decades, no one seems to have learned proper email etiquette. Where’s Emily Post when you need her?

Despite all of these problems, you’re probably still telling yourself that email couldn’t possibly be replaced. It’s become too ubiquitous and critical to your daily life. How will people in your organization communicate with each other and with your customers? Will I have to learn to write by hand again? How will my team know what to bring to the potluck? There are other options available, and adopting them will not only make your life easier but your organization more productive as well.

Establish your enterprise social network. Enterprise social and collaboration platforms have matured considerably in the past few years, enough to become viable alternatives to email. Solutions such as Yammer, SharePoint, and Slack are great ways to enhance collaboration, encourage transparency, and easily capture knowledge and corporate history. Managing projects and communicating through an enterprise social platform allows you to track not only what decisions were made but also the reasons behind them. This can provide valuable insight on future projects, especially as employees turnover and years of knowledge walk out the door as they retire.

Email only serves to silo information and encourages one-to-one or one-to-few communication. Instant messaging is even faster than email for quick conversations and can mitigate liability issues if you’re not storing all those IM conversations. Of course, you can always just pick up the phone or even launch a video call these days. If a conversation is relevant to more than just one or two other people and pertains to work that is being done, then it should probably take place on a collaboration platform to promote transparency and capture knowledge. There’s also the dreaded meeting, which can actually be valuable if used appropriately and sparingly. Email for internal communications just doesn’t make sense with the availability of these other tools.

Manage your customers. The one thing I always hear people say that prevents them from getting rid of email is communicating with their customers. Many organizations already have several internal communications and collaboration platforms – even if it’s just instant messaging – that would allow them to get rid of email, but how would they communicate outside the organization?

One option that many companies already use is a shared mailbox. This obviously won’t allow you to eliminate email completely, but at least you can keep it in check and centrally manage external communications where multiple employees can access it if necessary. This also eliminates issues with people being out sick or on vacation when that customer reaches out with a problem. The employee can enjoy her vacation and the customer can get the service they need. But there is an even better option.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions are much more advanced these days and offer more than just simple customer contact management capabilities. Managing your entire customer relationship through a system like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics can help you better manage and track your customer relationships. These can even include online customer self-service portals which can help organizations provide better customer service with fewer resources. A CRM solution can help track the entire customer journey with your company without limiting the data to one employee’s mailbox. If you’re looking to provide that extra special personal touch, then pick up the phone. Just be sure to log the interaction in your CRM solution.

End email tyranny. Email has come to consume our personal and professional lives, wasting our time and destroying our productivity. We receive so many emails every day that we setup rules to automatically move or delete unwanted messages and overlook important communications in an indistinguishable sea of subject lines. No matter what we do to try to organize, sort, and classify our emails, it just isn’t a productive way to communicate or collaborate. New solutions are available to us that integrate more seamlessly with the productivity tools we use every day and help to improve communication, collaboration, knowledge capture, tracking, and overall productivity. It’s time to eliminate the tyranny of email and look forward to a brighter, more productive future.