The office collaboration market is heading towards a huge evolution, thanks to the increasingly competitive nature of the market. Microsoft has been relentlessly pushing its Office 365 ecosystem, Google made several moves during the recently concluded Google Cloud Next event to strengthen its work-related apps, Amazon has been very silently releasing one productivity application a year for the last three years, and Slack carved its own space in the market.
But what impact will the improvement in office collaboration market have on email, without which tool none of us will be able to get our work done?
Bryan Goode, Microsoft’s senior director of Office 365, told The Verge:
“I think in this world today, we’re not talking about substitute behavior, we’re not talking about Teams replacing email or Slack replacing email for that matter, as much as competitors would like people to believe that happens.
I actually think what’s happened is we’ve got this proliferation of tools in our toolkit, and now we can do collaboration in the tools that make sense. I think email has a very viable future.”
That we are already at a point where we are discussing the viability of email is, in itself, is a sign that things are changing for one of the world’s most used applications.
In an empirical study published by Gloria J. Mark and Stephen Voida of University of California, the researchers found several benefits when employees do not stay continuously connected to email. They concluded that without access to email, employee focus increased and multi-tasking came down, bringing down overall stress levels.
The researchers, however, have warned about reading too much into their findings, saying:
“What our study suggests is that the tradeoffs among email usage, work pace, stress, and collaboration need to be more closely explored.”
Email has been the most widely used corporate application, and one that has underpinned all forms of inter- and intra-organisational communication around the world.
But as a product, email has not evolved all that much over the years. Yes, we have threaded conversations, chat boxes waiting to be fired up, searching and archiving has made our lives simple and all of that good stuff. But the basic structure of email has more or less remained the same.
Then there is the problem of dealing with attachments, especially within organisations. Innumerable documents are shared back and forth even for the simplest of projects, and email as a collaboration tool makes processes more complex rather than simplify them.
With office documents moving towards cloud hosting, and collaboration on documents becoming easier by the day, the first casualty of evolving office collaboration applications will be intra office “attachments.”
Microsoft has a product called MyAnalytics that provides insights about how you spend time at your work. Now see what Microsoft employee Jace Moreno found from his productivity data:
“It was his first time using Microsoft MyAnalytics, a dashboard displaying a week’s worth of his personalized productivity data. His eyes lingered on the number 23.4. That was how many hours in a week he’d spent reading and writing email in his Outlook inbox. He was astonished.
“That’s roughly half my week I was spending in email,” he thought. “Half!” Then he noticed another startling number: 46, the percentage of his emails recipients had opened and read.”
Though it’s really tempting to see it as a marketing move by Microsoft, we can all agree that we spend a lot of time writing and reading emails. And we also know as a fact that not all our emails are being opened and read by our own teammates.
When introducing Facebook’s messaging platform in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg said:
“High school kids don’t use email, they use SMS a lot”.
But email didn’t vanish in the next ten years, but it is also true that instead of sending email to our friends and family we either WhatsApp them or send them a message.
Messaging applications have clearly reduced the need for sending emails. This has happened quite effectively on the consumer side, and the billions of users on messaging applications is a clear indication of preferences shifting from email to messaging. It was simple and effective, and it won.
Now that game has swiftly moved into the workspace arena. Messaging, coupled with collaboration, is a powerful tool that can clearly cut into the need to rely on email to move information from one point to another within organizations. We are only getting started, and there is plenty more ground to cover, but the deconstruction of email has already started.
Will email have a viable role to play in the future?
We believe there is space for email, because companies still need a way to move information electronically between them, and they also need some help to communicate with their customers. Email is more suited to formal communication, where data needs to digitally be transferred from one person to another, rather than at the real-time information and idea exchange level that is critical to collaboration.
So, while email will likely live on as a vestigial component of a unified communication strategy, inter-office communication is going to depend less and less on email, simply because there is an evolving alternative and it is simple. And Microsoft is at the forefront of that evolution.
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