Although e-mail has been around for decades as the primary communication channel for businesses, everyone – from the CIO to the plant manager – is still trying novel ways to manage it. One e-mail hack that got much attention recently is Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s philosophy, called the “Yesterbox.” Rather than dealing with interruptions from incoming messages throughout the day, he replies to “yesterday’s messages today.” And for urgent situations that require immediate attention and decisions, he prefers to deal with them head on by texting.
After reading about Hsieh’s approach, I quickly started to think about my love-hate relationship with e-mail. With each response, cc, forward, and attachment, workers are feeling the strain of 100+ e-mails that arrive in their inbox every day waiting to be read and answered.
You filter through your message list by sender to see if there’s a message from your boss and deal with those first. Second, you look to see if there’s any marked as urgent — usually half of mine are because everything is urgent to the sender. Next, you look for messages from friends and teammates. Then you skim subject lines to see if anything catches your eye.
Is this the best way for me to prioritize what I pay attention to and how I get my work done? Not only is this traditional form of business communication a drag on productivity, but it’s also creating an environment of information silos and hampering people’s ability to get work done.
So, why are we still stuck with so much e-mail when there are more engaging, efficient channels of communication available? According to the July 2016 commissioned study, “The Total Economic Impact of SAP Jam,” conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of SAP, I am not the only one asking this question.
Is collaboration the new e-mail?
Forrester Consulting’s research revealed that social collaboration platforms are a natural extension of how an increasingly digital workforce interacts, learns, and innovates. Not only does this technology appeal to employees’ expectations for immediate access to information, feedback, and expertise, but it also it changes how the business operates.
Consider Musimundo, one of the largest retail networks in Argentina and a leader in the commercialization of entertainment products, technology, and electrical appliances. The company adopted a social collaboration platform to allow more effective management of its workforce of over 2,500 employees distributed throughout the country. While achieving its goals of greater transparency, accountability, and support in the employee development processes, the company realized an unexpected transformation within the corporate culture. By using the platform to communicate company announcements and share relevant information companywide or to a particular group that needs it, the company increased employee engagement while eliminating internal communication through e-mail.
While it may seem far-fetched that any technology could replace e-mail entirely, the example of Musimundo presents a clear reminder that the freedom to access information anytime and anywhere is possible for every business. In the Forrester Consulting economic impact study, one survey respondent using a social collaboration platform shared, “We have 700 salespeople, and they are out in the field not catching up on e-mails. They’re out and delayed trying to get critical information about the contacts’ distributors and leads. Now, if they have a question it can be posted, and they can get answers quicker.”
Collaboration’s advantage over e-mail
Collaboration is a fundamental enabler across the entire enterprise. Forrester Consulting revealed three key advantages of the technology that every line of business can achieve:
- Increased access to information and people. Enable employees to obtain information faster and accurately and get it in the hands of the right people, at the right time. By making communications transparent and straightforward, the workforce – no matter how geographically scattered – can better act on evolving dynamics of the marketplace in real time, while building a corporate culture of engagement.
- Greater collaboration with an increasingly mobile workforce. Recognizing that not all employees work in a structured office environment, social collaboration platforms can support a secure channel for information and expertise sharing – anywhere and on any device. Whether in the office, on the road, or from a home office, employees are saving a significant amount of time by engaging in a community that is willing and able to share the information or expertise that’s needed in the moment. Very few of us can say the same when searching through e-mails and tracking down phone calls!
- A universally liked collaboration tool – even for young talent. With little exception, millennials expect to have digital collaboration capabilities embedded in everything they do. Social collaboration platforms enable organizations to deliver such a work experience while maintaining a secure, scalable, Web-based platform that the IT organization can approve.
Then there’s my personal experience with collaboration. I prioritize the importance of activities based on their topical community. If I am notified by my mobile phone that there is a question in a high priority project group, I immediately investigate. Personally, I am in control of what is important for me to respond.
Considering these advantages, it’s clear that an e-mail-only business culture is not enough. The absence of a standard social communication tool across the enterprise leads to ineffective collaboration. And when you add teams the span time zones and department, it’s not long before critical information and data become siloed and disjointed – resulting in lost productivity from searching through e-mails, exchanging conversations and spreadsheets, and waiting for responses.
It’s time for a change. It’s time for social collaboration.