Smoke signals were once the latest thing in communications technology. But we humans are a demanding species and we blew off smoke in favour of the next faster, more reliable method of transmission. But from letters to telegrams to telephone, what was once hailed as a revolution soon falls short of our needs and other solutions are sought.
Despite being heralded as a communication game-changer, email is approaching the precipice of redundancy. Or is it? In this blog, we look at the pros and cons of business email and the alternative solutions that could be set to replace it.
A Brief History
Email became commercially available in the mid-1980s with around 250,00 offline email users. As computer use boomed, so did email. Customer numbers rapidly swelled to 5m users by 1992, an increase of 2000% in a decade.
This was just the beginning. Today 3.7bn people use email to communicate instantly across the globe, between organisations and even with the person sitting next to them.
Beyond linking businesses with international customers or making it quicker and easier to communicate with Dave in the Norwich office, email has also made document sharing a possibility. Forget printing, photocopying and posting a document to a colleague in another office. Today, we take for granted our ability to immediately upload a document, email it to a colleague and save changes to a shared file.
Other businesses have taken email a step further using cloud services to host their email software and link it to wider applications like Office 365.
Email has now been around for long enough to be able to link in with other systems like Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM). Free add-ins mean you can seamlessly link your contacts with your email system providing instant access and a single place to update details.
There are also a wide range of tried and tested email apps that join up with other programmes, like a calendar. This allows you to set up meetings via email and instantly send an invite that will appear in all attendees’ calendars.
Often hosted online using cloud services, email and calendar applications are available wherever you have an internet connection. This means you always have access to your latest communications and an up-to-date schedule.
Less Than Perfect?
Despite all the benefits email brings, it’s not perfect. In fact, it’s email’s very success that is also at the root of its demise.
We’re such prolific users of email that the average UK worker sends and receives 40 emails a day or 100,000 in a year spending 23% of their workday checking and responding to email. Which leads just 58% of workers to believe that modern technology makes them more productive.
Corporate leaders are also starting to see the cracks between the lines of this once-lauded technology. Email overwhelm often causes employees to feel out of control and distracts them from completing work of real value to the organisation. And out-of-hours email means staff who are already under pressure at work are also feeling the heat in their ‘free’ time, increasing stress levels and eroding the quality of life.
With the challenges posed by email and the need for employees to be able to communicate more quickly, new technology has emerged to challenge email’s dominance over workplace communication.
As email alternatives, like instant and collaborative messaging systems, go from good to great they’re starting to gain real traction. Not only do they make real-time communication a reality in the workplace but they are now able to fully integrate with other software. This capability allows organisations of all shapes and sizes to seamlessly upload documents and work collaboratively.
Here, we look at two of the more established options.
One of the major uses of email is to send documents to other colleagues or customers so you can collaborate. This often means lengthy email trails with multiple document amendments and versions. Skype helps businesses take a significant leap forwards with a range of collaborative options including messaging, online video calling and screen sharing.
If you’ve never shared your screen with someone, prepare to be amazed. Skype allows you to communicate over the internet one-on-one or in groups of up to 250 people sharing your screen as you present a document.
You can also make amendments and share updates in real-time, swapping control of the screen to take it in turns to make changes. Combined with cloud services, you can save your documents in shared files so all this takes place using the same document with changes saved in one place.
While holding a conversation may seem like a step back to more traditional methods of communication, it’s the integration of technology using visual and verbal communication that beats email hands-down.
Designed to help employees collaborate across locations and between business areas, Yammer is a social media platform for businesses. Used by the likes of Nationwide, Capgemini and a range of SMEs, the software enhances interconnectivity and improves internal communications.
Yammer makes instant messaging available to all, easing email burden. A single click on the Yammer icon and employees can select their recipient, type and send without the need to start a new email and wait for it to be spotted and opened.
Yammer also allows you to set up topics and project groups to bring groups of employees together – it’s a far easier process than setting up email lists and enables collaboration and file sharing among group members. Because it integrates easily with cloud services and uses Microsoft Office apps, Office users will recognise the familiar interface making it simple to adopt.
Using messaging apps and other platforms to communicate isn’t solely for internal communications.
Marketing platform provider HubSpot cut marketing email volume by 50% while increasing customer engagement by 28%. And all by using Messenger and Facebook in place of email.
Have Your Cake and Eat It
It’s unlikely that your business could drop email today and cope without it, as one French company found when they decided to adopt a zero internal email initiative. While it didn’t succeed completely, it did achieve a 60% reduction in email traffic and led to increased use of the organisation’s internal messaging platform.
It’s clear that social messaging apps are here to stay. While you might not be ready to kiss email goodbye, it’s worth thinking about how you can make the best use of cloud services and integrate tried and tested solutions like Yammer or Skype to bring another string to your communications bow.