Email – the collaboration killer


Almost 30 years ago as an IBM Systems Engineer I was selling the benefits of e-mail to customers. Internally we used PROFS and I recall my joy when working with a customer who had signed up for IBM’s Screenmail service when I could communicate with them electronically. Home broadband connections and consumer e-mail did not exist.

Looking back it is hard to comprehend how we ever managed to do anything without e-mail.

Fast forward to today and I would suggest it is hard to comprehend how we ever get anything done with e-mail!

Hands up if you want to receive more e-mail?

Nobody wants to receive more e-mail – we all get too much of it. The unread message count in your inbox is viewed as your badge of honour and a measure of how important you are. It has become culturally acceptable in certain organisations for e-mails to be left unread and unreplied to because of the realisation that it is impossible to keep up with the volume. Reply-all mail storms, e-mail “trees” and the endless “2nd attempt” messages from people desperate for a response or “+1″ requests from people not wishing to be left out fill our inboxes daily.

In a Canute-like attempt not to drown you bail out items from your inbox into a folder hierarchy that made perfect sense the moment you created it, yet five minutes later you can’t remember where you put it.

We get sent on courses to give us the skills to manage our inbox, people stress over inbox “Zero” – our job has become that of a professional e-mail manager rather than focussing on actually getting stuff done.

E-mail is an interpersonal communication mechanism that has become an overused one size fits all tool. The model whereby you can make the decision at the point of creation that what you are about to write is wanted, needed, relevant and of interest to the recipient by virtue of placing them in the To or Cc field is broken.

E-mail volumes continue to grow, according to the Radicati Group e-mail statistics report.

The average user daily business e-mail volume for 2019 is 126 per day (growing consistently at 3% year on year), split 96 received and 30 sent. How many hours per day are “wasted” simply by the act of processing e-mail without actually moving the ball forward?

Rumours of the death of email are greatly exaggerated and that is not what this is about.

We need to return to the human element and revisit how we get stuff done and then apply the tools at our disposal to support this, rather than let the tools drive us.

In the old days, when we all worked in the same office, the same location and the same time zone, things were simpler. We’d talk to each other, real time, either formally (in meetings) or informally at the coffee machine, or dare I say it in the smoking room!

When a key project started we would go round the office, find an empty room in the building and that room would be become the project or “war” room and the people that were going to work on that project took their stuff from their desks and went to work there.

In today’s environment, with a global and increasingly mobile workforce, it isn’t so easy to achieve what was previously so simple. Technology helps: virtual video meetings bring people together in real time from wherever they may physically be located; persistent workflow/chat tools group teams together in project or tasked focussed spaces.

But here’s the tricky bit. The inbox is a constant magnet, drawing our attention back, sapping hours of our day just to manage it. It’s a habit we can’t kick!

Breaking that habit requires a desire to change and then effort and commitment, not only from the organisation top-down, but from the users themselves for a benefit they may not fully understand at the outset.

Adoptt was founded with the vision to help organisations through the journey of Workplace Transformation, bringing together both the technical expertise and the adoption services to enable success.

Jonathan George

Jonathan George

Digital Collaboration Lead for Adoptt. Technology master with a passion for how its application delivers business outcomes. Bridges and balances the needs of IT with the business requirements to ensure the solution satisfies both. Cloud service evangelist with a desire to change the way we work in today's more social, collaborative and mobile enabled workplace.

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