The Future of Communication - Can Email be Replaced?

Communication is constantly changing, there is no doubt about that. There are now more ways than ever to talk with friends, family and colleagues. In fact, there are over a thousand apps available for Android devices alone that facilitate communication through social media or instant messaging services.

With the abundance of tools the digital age provides, it would be logical to suggest that communication is more efficient and fluid than it’s ever been. But is that statement actually true, or are we still most reliant on traditional methods – in particular, email?

It feels as though my email account has become as essential part of my life in recent years. It’s where my bank statements, utility bills, order confirmations and newsletters are sent. My email account also provides me access to my Google account and a host of other sites through single sign on. Plus the occasional message from friends or family is sent there. That’s a lot of information all stored in one place.

With all those messages arriving into one inbox which was set up almost a decade ago, it’s fair to say that my inbox has fallen into disarray. I have over 35,000 unread emails and I have little idea what they are. There is little doubt that, at some point, I will have missed an important message. Luckily my professional email account is far more organised, but maintaining that inbox still takes time. Just ask anyone who’s taken annual leave what their inbox was like upon their return and look at the anguish on their face.

Importantly, when communicating with peers - I don’t tend to use my email, I’ll use a messaging app instead. As a society we expect quick, easy methods of exchanging information and this is exactly what is provided by the simplicity of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other tools. Trends are now emerging in personal lives, that will likely be followed at work

Slack It To Me

There has already been a significant rise in the use of Enterprise Social Networks (ESN’s) such as Slack and Google Hangouts in the workplace. Slack, in particular, has seen an unprecedented level of active user growth of 350% since its launch in August 2013 and estimates to have helped customers reduce the number of internal emails by 48.6%.

This represents a huge transformation in how businesses manage internal communications and is improving team & project efficiency today. So why isn’t Slack replacing email yet? The obvious issue preventing this, is that by design, Slack is predominantly intended for internal use. Though there are developments being made, Slack still struggles to break into the dominance email has over external communications.

Historically, products which have tried to take on the status quo - launched and pitched as the successor to email have struggled. Microsoft tried and failed with the Clutter tool, which was designed to better hide unwanted emails. Google has also attempted a similar feat with the Inbox product, intended to better categorise emails into a to-do list. Whilst moderately successful with positive early adoption, the platform has failed to deliver sustained levels of growth and is now as a test area for new Gmail functionality.

Professional vs Personal Communication

Trends that occur in personal lives are often a good indication of future workplace trends. In the case of communication, internet based messaging apps have completely revolutionised both one-to-one and group based discussions. WhatsApp now handles over 30 billion messages every day. in fact the rise of such platforms have largely coincided with the decline of SMS which can be observed as early as 2013.

At this point, we are yet to see a similar proposition in the corporate world that can handle two-way, internal and external messaging. The demand is there for this change however. 26% of employees actually think that emails hurt their productivity – due to the amount of time wasted managing inboxes.

Business Communication Trends

Any change in digital communication technology is going to have enormous repercussions on staff productivity. As proven by Slack, there are improvements in efficiency that can be achieved by introducing messaging technology to help teams better communicate.

For effective change management, companies must regularly review strategy and adopt a state of readiness – with plans in place to change & develop. This is no different when it comes to communication processes. If there is a financial incentive to improve productivity, then organisations need to be in a position to transition quickly in order to recognise them.

But does this apply to email? Whilst we have seen a rise in instant messaging solutions, chat platforms and ESNs there are no technologies which completely replace the humble email address.

Is an Office Without Email Possible?

Ultimately, email is still a robust method of communication. There is always an auditable trail of messages sent; read receipts are available and an easy to use interface mobile offering provides a reliable solution to millions of users every day.

Now, with the introduction of more sophisticated messaging platforms such as Google Hangouts, Slack, Trello and Basecamp, we are beginning to see alternate internal communication channels emerge and grow in popularity. Our perpetual reliance on email has been somewhat reduced as a result - but still not wholly eradicated, with the many emerging platforms unable to replace external email processes.

So, the question still remains, as we progress further into the digital age: can email be completely replaced? According to some, the answer is yes. Automattic, for example, don’t use email at all. instead relying internal collaboration tool - P2. Automattic are a pioneering tech firm with no physical offices either, so not exactly an orthodox company. However, they are proof that it is possible to be successful without conforming to traditional norms.

Plus, traditional norms and values change over time. In previous years it would have seemed alien for a company to not have a fax machine, or a dedicated landline extension for every staff member. Floppy disks and CD-ROMs were seen as an effective data back-up method and desktop computers were prominent before laptops and tablets.

The point is that all technology has its sell by date, that’s the very nature of innovation. Today, there is still a place for email in business – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When a better, smarter solution is released and becomes available, the natural laws of demand will see it spread as seen with Slack. Until we reach that point, we’ll simply keep double checking the junk folder before pressing delete.

See how CommonTime are revolutionising internal communication across organisations with Intelligent Paging brochure today.

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