Can a Workplace Survive Without Email?

One of the most discussed topics at #SWCONF this week was that everyone collectively hated email. Inboxes are flooded with questions whose answers can be found elsewhere. People are all too quick to hit “reply all” or CC unnecessary parties, just because they are not sure who should be receiving the message, or they don’t know who to ask for help. With email seeming like a crutch that we lean on too much, is it possible that it could possibly go extinct?

In his blog StopThinkSocial, David Christopher predicted the end of email by 2018. He notes the following:

According to the Radicati Group, the average corporate user sends and receives 110 emails a day. If we say it takes on average 90 seconds to either read or write an email, that equates to 2 hours 45 mins a day or nearly 14 hours a week on email.

That’s a lot of wasted time.

Some workers have gotten so frustrated with email that they often aspire to reach “Inbox Zero.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: seeing a comforting 0 right on your main inbox. It’s such a difficult task that Merlin Mann is writing a book called “Inbox Zero.” (You can follow his chronicles writing the book on Tumblr.)

If we are to survive without email, we must find another tool to use. Going back to David Christopher, he pointed out an interesting rule while speaking at SWCONF that his company follows. If somebody asks a question in email, it is never to be answered in email. Instead, the answer is posted on a social network so that anyone else with the same question can look up the answer for themselves. (This follows the old adage that if one student in class raises her hand to ask a question, chances are that many other people had the same question but didn’t want to speak up.) HREOnline conducted a survey with over 1,400 Chief Information Officers, and more than half of them said that “real time” communication tools like instant messenger or Yammer will become more popular in the workplace than email within the next five years.

What do you think? Can your workplace give up email? How far away in the future is the extinction of workplace email?

9 thoughts on “Can a Workplace Survive Without Email?

  1. David Christopher

    Thanks for popping over my blog Adam ūüėČ
    Interestingly I have just started the reverse conversation in Oracle – ” What would happen to our business if ALL social products were turned off? “The purpose of this question is to see if we have gone too far down the social road to turn back to be reliant solely on email. I’m also wondering what would happen to our “behaviours” if we did. Being Social promotes knowledge sharing and collaboration, would these behaviours reduce or even stop because it is too difficult to do via email?I’ll pop back with the results of the crowd-source at a later date.

    1. Adam Britten

      Interesting idea. Makes me think of something Jon Mell said at SWCONF, I can’t remember who: “When email goes down, we are relieved. When a social platform goes down, we are outraged.”

  2. Steve Walker

    I am currently embroiled with David in discussion about this elsewhere. ¬†In my view, our company could barely function without e-mail and certainly wouldn’t function smoothly. Too many processes (formal ones – like getting expenses paid – not just people talking to each other) are dependent upon it. ¬†

  3. Richard Nelson

    I believe that social media will over take e-mail. However, e-mail (like text messaging) has the property of being able to have a conversation without really talking to someone. Sometimes you just want to send something impersonal that does not require an immediate response. Avoiding the effort of having to ‘chat’ or form a ‘huddle’

    Until social media is fully adopted within organisations e-mail is critical for communication. It is just a shame that some educational institutions are still playing catch up with industry. I recently requested a form from the estates dept., which they e-mailed me. So I effeciently filled in electronically and added my signature before mailing back within 30mins. Estates then contacted me and stated that I needed to send I hard copy as they could not ‘process’ the electronic copy, it needed a ‘proper’ signature.

    So I printed a copy out and sent it through internal mail!!

  4. Helena Moore

    Interesting topic and comments ….I dont think mail will dissapear but have a more a¬†defined place and pupose as other mediums grow and¬†people experiment how to get the best use¬†out¬†of them.¬†A couple of examples –¬†I didn’t know until this week that out internal phone system can do instant messaging I¬†might be soooooo¬†yesterday not knowing this but hey Im not too proud the fess up …. and … it¬†has it’s uses and replaces a few mails for me¬†now…. Secondly and whilst I squealed a bit when I found out about the message thingy on¬†the¬†phone…¬†I am even more¬†a¬†excited about converting 121 Q&A¬†mails into broader learning¬†–¬†I do think there is so much power in new approaches to share learning through other channels a question answered shared with many instead of 1 and then improved and developed and challenged etc creates a social learning community. Such a community operating within a frame work,¬†so it isn’t unwieldy, can be hugely powerful and engaing – much better than a 2 way mail exchange – exciting times ahead.

  5. Mark Fidelman

    email will evolve and become more collaborative. It won’t and can’t die as it’s the lowest common¬†denominator¬†messaging platform where any email exchange can communicate directly with another. Social business technologies don’t and won’t do that for some time IMHO.¬†

    1. Adam Britten

      At one point though, will it no longer be the lowest common denominator? Once digital natives make up the majority of most offices, will we see a shift in the way 1-1 communication takes place at work?

  6. Thyda

    I dispise email but understand¬†the need for it in the workplace (even that’s debatable). However, it’s one way communication so I challenge others (yes, you)¬†before sending an email determine if it is strictly messaging¬†to inform or¬†if you want a dialogue. If it’s personal, then yes¬†perhaps email is the way to go but if¬†it’s not then¬†discuss on¬†an internal¬†social platform. Easier said than done, yes¬†but it certainly can be done.¬†Cheers to email reduction¬†and¬†no more “Your inbox is over the size limit” messages. ¬†

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