There’s a horde of startups trying to replace email.
Some of these apps, like Slack (which we use at Business Insider), take a chat-room approach.
There are enterprise messaging apps that work like Snapchat, like Cotap and TigerText.
Some mobile-first productivity apps like Quip imagine that we’ll communicate directly in the documents we’re working on.
They’re all wrong.
According to the latest research conducted by the Pew Center Internet Project, 61% of American workers now say that email is “very important” for doing their job.
That number hasn’t moved at all in 13 years. As the researchers put it:
As early as 2002, Pew Research Internet surveys showed that 61% of American workers were using email at work. In 2008, we reported that 62% of working American adults were “networked workers,” meaning they used the internet or email in the workplace….Email’s vital role has withstood major changes in other communications channels such as social media, texting, and video chatting. Email has also survived potential threats like phishing, hacking and spam and dire warnings by commentators and workplace analysts about lost productivity and email overuse.
Why is email so resilient? The report doesn’t go into that, but it’s pretty obvious:
- Everybody has it on every device. There’s no need to download anything, no need to learn a new app or system, no need to persuade your coworkers to use it.
- It’s less interruptive than a phone call. The only other mode of communication that reaches everybody is the phone. But placing a phone call requires the other person to be available and willing to talk, right then.
- It’s exceptionally flexible. Most of the tools that aim to replace email require you to do things in a certain way — for instance, if I want to make sure a colleague sees a message I post in Slack, I have to tag them with their handle, otherwise it might get lost in the flow of information in their newsfeed. (Sometimes, it gets lost anyway.) When I used Yammer at a previous job, we had to come up with conventions for the kinds of things we’d post and avoid. With email, it’s basically a blank slate — you can put anything you want into the blank box and the person on the other end will receive it.
- It’s a deliverable — a measurable part of work. Email isn’t just for communication. It’s part of work. If your boss sends an email, you pretty much have to reply. There are plenty of other tools to coordinate workflow, but everybody still jumps back into email to send certain kinds of communications, like urgent requests for information, updates on particular tasks, brainstorming, you name it. You have no choice but to respond.
There are some ways email is used that aren’t perfect. For instance, a lot of people use their email inbox as a to-do list, even though it’s hard to organise and items sometimes fall through the cracks. Here, a tool built for workflow, like Asana, may end up being better.
But for day-to-day communication, email is not going away.
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