The Future Of Work Won't Include Email


Photo: flickr/wonderlane

For many people, email takes up more time than just about anything else. It’s entirely too easy to spend hours or even a whole day catching up.According to Don Tapscott, an author, strategy consultant, and Professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, that’s a big problem. Email is all about containing knowledge, putting it in defined boxes. That’s the wrong way to go about it. Information and knowledge are much more powerful when people can easily access it, then collaborate and build upon it.

We need something better in the 21st century. Here’s how Tapscott puts it, in an interview with the McKinsey Quarterly:

“So, there’s a big change that’s underway right now in rethinking knowledge management. It’s really moving toward what I would call content collaboration, as opposed to trying to stick knowledge into a box where we can access it. E-mail is sort of like what Mark Twain said about the weather. Everybody’s talking about it, and nobody’s doing anything about it. We have to get rid of e-mail.

You need to have a new collaborative suite where, rather than receiving 50 e-mails about a project, you go there and you see what’s new. All the documents that are pertinent to that project are available. You can create a new subgroup to talk about something. You can have a challenge or an ideation or a digital brainstorm to advance the interests of that project. You can co-create a document on a wiki. You can microblog the results of this to other people in the corporation who need to be alerted.”

Email ends up being a time waster, as are most meetings designed to inform people. Because knowledge and information are locked away in inboxes and remain unshared, emails beget more emails which beget meetings and more meetings. Most of both of those things are unnecessary if you build intuitive, useful collaboration platforms.

The internet gives us the opportunity to do things faster and more efficiently. Yet our primary tool is something designed, in many ways, to do the opposite. 

It’s an inevitable process Tapscott argues, and the earlier companies realise it, the better. “The train has left the station. The horse is out of the barn, he said. “We’re not going back on this. And I hope that a decade from now, electronic mail will be a vague memory in our minds and we’ll be using these tools to collaborate much more effectively.”

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