Despite Slack’s Success, Email Is Still King

Email is almost as old as the internet itself. And really, it hasn’t changed much since its inception.

Messages hit your inbox, you read them, and they either pile up or get banished to the trash can.

But we’ve got a problem with email. We’ve become all too familiar with the challenge of “email overload.”

The Cause of Email Overload

Email became a burden when people started using it for the wrong reasons. For example:

  • Short chit-chat such as questions that could easily be answered with a Google search using the exact same words the person wrote in the email
  • Using email as if it were a group chat application
  • Sending around jokes, photos, or news stories to mass distribution lists
  • Replies without adding anything to the conversation, such as “thank you” or “k.”
  • Sending mass notifications about random events and information. In a previous job, I used to get invites to ice cream socials at an office location 2,000 miles from where I worked.
  • Hitting “reply all”

These are all valid reasons of why we’ve come to hate email. Not because email itself is bad, but because people are in the habit of using it in ways that quickly lead to email overload.

Will Slack Be the End of Email?

Lately, we’ve seen rapid adoption of messaging and chat applications such as Slack.

In general, these chat applications are easy to use, they enable real-time chatting with team members, and they don’t leave an impossibly big pile of emails in their wake.

The new chat apps also come with new features, like “channels.” One channel can be for “bug notifications,” while another can be for “lunch plans.” That way everyone on the team can easily track what’s being said about each individual topic.

Many are singing the praises of these new chat applications. Some are even saying they’re going to kill off email completely.

But like anything, they have their drawbacks.

The Disadvantages of Chat Systems (Yes, even Slack)

Here are some of the common problems people are having with chat applications:

1. They’re Distracting

Unlike email, chat applications are instant. You check your email when you have a moment. But chat applications work best if everyone keeps live notifications turned on.

It’s more like being in a non-stop, never-ending conversation, all throughout the day.

That’s fine for some teams, but for most of us, we have tasks that require focus; a state of “flow.” By their very nature, chat applications destroy flow.

What’s the impact of being “in flow” instead of “out of flow”? A 2013 Mckinsey & Company study found top executives were 5x more productive while in flow state than out of flow.

2. Too Much Collaboration Can Be Dangerous

A Harvard Business Review article reported that there are several common problems with too much collaboration. These include unclear roles, too much talking and not enough doing, fear of fighting, more hugs than decisions, and creating more work for everyone involved.

3. Round the Clock Activity

It’s good to have committed employees. It’s not good to have them constantly using these live chatting apps, even during non-work hours.

It’s been shown that when you give employees smartphones, they’ll use them. In fact, one study found that employees who carry smartphones for work “report interacting with work a whopping 13.5 hours every workday.”

4. Using Chat for the Wrong Reasons

Some companies are so desperate to find something other than email, they’re trying to use apps like Slack in completely improper situations.

If you’re a real estate agent, you spend most of your time working with individual clients. It’s not practical for you to try and get each one of your clients and prospects to communicate with you using Slack.

Slack Is Not the Email Killer

From what we’ve seen, Slack and these other chat applications are very useful, but they’re not “email killers.”

Instead of replacing email, chat applications have become one more thing business professionals have to monitor and keep up with. Email is now like a phone call you make to someone in another building. Slack is the conversation you’re having with someone in the same room.

Email is still the go-to option for communication with outside partners or contractors. Chat applications are becoming popular so that communication within an organization is more personalized and manageable.

The reason for this is simple: outside partner organizations might not have Slack or the exact chat application you’re using.

But you know they all have email… easily thrusting email as the best common denominator for all cloud app communication.

Is it Possible to Merge Email and Real-Time Chat?

When we exchange a series of emails with someone in an external organization, it’s an indication that we’re really embarking on a “mini-project.” For every mini-project, you and your team are probably creating far more emails than you realize. For example:

  • Emails back and forth to the outside partner to initiate the project
  • Internal emails with team members to ask their opinion
  • Emails to share files back and forth
  • Emails to request collaboration or changes to the project

How would you accomplish these things without email? One way might be to open a Basecamp project every time a mini-project came up.

But that has drawbacks too. Not every conversation leads to an actual working project. And your partners in the other organization might not be able to use Basecamp due to internal blocks or other restrictions.

What about existing chat applications? Could you use Slack or HipChat to work with an outside contractor?

You could, but you’d run into some of the same problems:

  • The other organization might not be able to use your chat app.
  • If you only work occasionally with a partner, they might not see your messages when you send them, since they may not be closely monitoring the feed.

You could develop a custom application for your company that blends email and chat. But again, for it to replace email, you’d have to share the application with all your outside partners and somehow convince them to use it.

At Present, Email and Chat Are Not Properly Integrated

At the present time, neither email nor chat is properly integrated with cloud solutions for project management, file sharing, collaboration, etc. Chat applications may have reduced some of our emails, but they’ve also given one more thing for us to try and keep up with.

When in Doubt, People Still Resort to Email

Email is what people know. They’re comfortable with it. And they trust it to deliver the message to its intended recipient, regardless of whether the recipient is inside or outside their organization.

Email — in other words — remains the king.

As long as that’s true, the problem of email overload will remain a daily headache in the lives of many business professionals.

For our part, we’re working on integrating popular email applications (such as Gmail) with some of the popular chat applications (such as Slack).

By doing so, we believe we can create a more elegant and comprehensive solution to the problem of email overload.

Credit to the original story posted on LinkedIn: