Ryan Holmes in Fast Company – Why Email is a Productivity Killer – and its days are numbered

fast company 150An article by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes was featured in Fast Company yesterday. Holmes explores five ways that email kills productivity in the workplace, from discouraging social sharing to complicating group work. You can check out the story – and how the latest social tools offer a superior alternative – here. [clear]

The world’s first email message was sent in 1971. In the intervening four decades – as disco came and went, the Berlin Wall fell, the Internet was invented and a soft-spoken Harvard undergrad launched Facebook –  email has remained in essence unchanged: an electronic letter, mailed to a virtual address.  

Comfortable and Familiar

Today, some 1.88 billion people around the world are hooked on a technology that’s nearly a half-century out-of-date. Email is comfortable and familiar, but it’s horribly unproductive. Try setting up a meeting time with a group of people via email, for instance, and that becomes painfully obvious.

In recent years, however, there’s been a quiet revolution stirring. Major companies – including French IT firm Atos, which has 74,000 employees – have either banned or limited email use in the office. As employees embrace more efficient ways of communicating, productivity has improved significantly.

Among the most powerful alternatives to email are a new generation of internal Facebook-style networks built with companies in mind.  To reduce email use at HootSuite, developers here designed Conversations – an internal communications tool that enables teams to post and respond in real time on centralized message threads shown in the HootSuite dashboard. Appropriate messages can even be amplified to Twitter, Facebook and other networks, while poignant tweets and posts can be pulled into group discussions with a click.

Breaking the Habit

By reducing dependency on the inbox, HootSuite hopes to progressively eliminate office email in the coming year. And when you think about email’s limitations, it’s not a moment too soon.  

  • Email is a time killer. The average corporate user spends more than ¼ of the workday reading and responding to email, according to McKinsey’s 2012 Social Economy report. Amid spam, forwards, mass mailings and other non-essential emails, critical messages end up lost or deferred – creating a serious bottleneck in workflow.
  • Email is not built for collaboration. As Tim Walters, senior analyst at Forrester Research, explains: “[Email] is miserable as a collaborative tool.  But it’s still used daily by 85 percent of workers.”   Anyone who has ever attempted to brainstorm or set up meetings on email knows this well.  There are clearly better options: Facebook-style discussion threads where multiple users can post and reply; instant messaging and chat for quick exchanges; and Twitter and Facebook for true crowd-sourced collaboration.  Now wouldn’t it be nice if one platform did nearly all of those things?
  • Knowledge gets trapped in the inbox. How much insight and knowledge is trapped right now in your inbox? Wouldn’t it be valuable if other members of your team could tap into that accumulated know-how? With email this simply isn’t possible. “I have a policy in my workgroup that I won’t answer support questions by email – I’ll force the inquirer to put it into an online social platform,” says social business guru David Christopher, who famously forecast the death of email back in 2008. “I don’t want to be a bottleneck . . . and other people could be able to answer that question.” Searchable discussion threads and wikis offer a much better alternative for a modern workforce.
  • Email doesn’t have social or viral potential. Some messages are meant for just one user. But oftentimes, our emails offer insight or analysis that would benefit a larger audience, be that within a team or company or among an even broader demographic. The trouble is that there’s no Like or share button on an email. The inbox is essentially a dead-end. The right internal network, however, can allow messages to be shared company-wide and beyond.
  • Email is terrible for document sharing. In an era when elegant, easy-to-use file sharing alternatives like Google Drive exist, it’s hard to believe business users are still attaching drafts and documents to emails and attempting to edit en masse. If you’ve done this you know how difficult it is to keep track of revisions or collaborate in any meaningful way. Google Drive and similar alternatives, by contrast, allow multiple users to edit simultaneously and chart the progress of all changes.

Email use Graph

Email may still be the predominant means of corporate communication, but the writing is on the wall.  Just in the last year, webmail use has declined 34 percent amont 18-24 year olds, the next generation of office workers.  They’re finding better, faster and easier ways to communicate.  In a few years time, we may well be reading email its last rites.

For the full story, check out Holmes’ article on the Fast Company website.

Ready to try something new? HootSuite Conversations allows you to have real-time, internal conversations with everyone in your organization, or with individual teams, without leaving the HootSuite dashboard. Learn more about it.