Email is a 40-year-old technology that helped bring about historic changes in the way businesses operate. For those of us who entered the workforce since its widespread adoption in the Nineties, it's almost impossible to conceptualise what life was like beforehand. Secretaries? Pneumatic Tubes? Carbon paper? What?
What I'm saying is, I wouldn't downplay the impact of email in business any more than I would downplay the role that taming horses played in transportation: it was an invaluable innovation in managing companies, and its use powered the development of great products, and fuelled economic growth for decades. The ultimate conundrum of growth, however, is that it demands more growth. It's time to recognise that the same technology that got us from A to B is not going to get us to C squared.
If email were a horse, it's time to buy a railroad ticket. In my view, that railroad is cloud collaboration technology, which allows businesses to deliver projects faster at lower costs by freeing workers from the biggest organisation-wide killers of productivity.
It’s the end of email as we know it
In our 2015 Work Management survey, 60 per cent of our 1,400 respondents identified 'Missing Information' as one of the biggest stressors in the workplace.
You might think that email mitigates this problem by accelerating communication. In reality, it has the opposite effect. Email is a 'push' system: if you have information that I need, I must wait for you to push it to me by sending it in an email. I have no visibility into what information you possess, and if you are unavailable to send it to me, I'm out of luck.
Cloud collaboration, on the other hand, is a 'pull' system. If I need information, I can enter the cloud, search for it, and access it when I need to. I've saved your time, and also eliminated a major delay in my taking action.
Furthermore, information in emails can't be extracted easily without reading it. For example, if you and I have been emailing back and forth to plan a party for the last five days, we may have a conversation chain that is 15 emails long. If I now need to find the cost of the caterer in that chain, I have to skim through all 15 emails to find it. I’m pretty sure you sent it to me. Or wait - maybe that was in another email?
Instead, collaborating in the cloud means that you can store key dates, share files so everyone has the most up to date version. Independent of which particular system you opt for, it’s also generally easy to group data into shared projects and folders for context. This is only possible to a limited extent on email, and even then it is laborious.
Getting your priorities right
Prioritising is another issue. When I look at a list of 50 new emails, how do I know which emails I need to tackle most urgently? How do I know which ones contain action items for me? There’s really no way to tell.
Instead, collaboration tools enable you to include information about priority, assignee, and due date, so that everyone on the team knows where to focus their efforts.
When you think of that lost time caused by email and how it compounds across an organisation with hundreds or thousands of knowledge workers, it is easy to see why collaboration tools have been mushrooming.
The same applies to spreadsheets, the other 'default' tool for project management. Project managers will email spreadsheets around and try to get workers to update them. By the time a spreadsheet has done the rounds, it’s already out of date.
Staying up to date on projects through an offline method is a losing battle given the accelerated pace of today’s business. Instead, the cloud affords us the ability to have up to the minute visibility into project portfolios as and when we need it.
The last horsemen in a world of trains?
I would venture that the mass adoption of cloud collaboration software is going to be as inevitable for companies as the adoption of email was 30 years ago. But then you could say that I have a vested interest.
The market will drive this adoption as CIOs begin to feel the effects of being the last horsemen in a world of trains. And while email will always serve a role in facilitating communication, its days as the primary tool for managing projects are numbered.
I’m not here to disrespect email or its role in communication history. But for business and economic growth to sustain, communications and management waste must be reduced as much as possible. Email helped reduce waste in site-to-site communication for documents when it was introduced. Collaboration and project management in the cloud is the next necessary step in advancing the speed of business.
Andrew Filev, CEO and founder, Wrike