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The company without emailkoenraad.seys
We all have email.
Some of us even have multiple email addresses. From these accounts we send and receive emails for work and/or pleasure and some of these mailboxes are only visited occasionally.
From snail mail to e-mail
Snail mail and email have a lot of similarities. Fundamentally they do the same things, only email is digital. The concept of editing and sending a message is not different. But by mail it is just cheaper, delivery is quasi immediate and we’re not dependent of Mail Delivery Companies. The unchanged fundamentals of exchanging messages is actually the main reason why email was adopted by the majority of the public (even grandmas use it).
Overwhelming amount of email
- long discussion threads,
- automatically generated emails
- and email as a storage box for documents and information.
Further, automatically generated emails increase the size of mailboxes. This became a big problem, when applications and platforms started generating automatic notifications channeled via email. For example, is communicating a task, whether ad hoc or generated by a project management environment, workflow or case management system best done via email? For email users this only means that they are confronted with hitting the ceiling of their mailbox quota earlier.
Should we use other channels? Ban email?
The evolutions described in the previous paragraphs led us to question the appropriateness of email as the main communications platform. Corporate initiatives on getting rid of email, either as a strategic policy or as a grassroots initiative led by the younger aged groups are emerging.
In the recent past, bold statements have been made on banning email from corporate practices. In Europe the best heard announcement was that of Thierry Breton, CEO of French IT company Atos. In 2012, he declared a ban on internal email for the company’s 80,000 employees, to be effective in 2014.
The value of communication in context
In a majority of cases, the value of communication is realized in context. Being bombarded with information via email at any moment in time leads to wasted energy and disruption. Only tasks requiring immediate action, preferably in the specific context, to be executed by an individual should be addressed or pushed to you directly. Often these tasks can be taken up by team members in the project, community or group context. Having insight in the number of messages and their urgency should provide enough information while not disturbing you when acting on the thing at hand.
Therefore, the notification list should have a self cleaning capacity. When a task has been executed or is taken up by somebody it should disappear from your inbox. The same goes for information once taken note of, which should be stored and thus ready for retrieval in a repository. Internally sourced messages are created in context and can be found in the context of creation using search and navigation facilities offered by the information infrastructure. For externally sourced information, automatic classification puts the message in context.
The need for specific mobile applications
A large part of the employees, mainly hourly or production workers, however, don’t and never had email access or PC access in the workplace. Nevertheless, also for them the value of information increases and this in an environment that is moving to be predominantly digital. Mobile access is an option as they don’t have a dedicated desk available. The requirements related to their increasingly flexible interaction in business processes pushes for the need of specific solutions.
Mobile applications targeted at specific organisation needs will channel information according to the needs of task and context giving opportunities to circulate more generic corporate and team information. In logistics it is possible to indicate where the next charge is to be taken up, taking into account the time, location and capacity of the material. The same is applicable on a micro level in hospitals where patients need to be brought from the day centre or the hospital ward to the operation theatre, notifying the assistant who is best located and available for the task at hand.
How to replace email in projects
Quite a lot of project solutions are already available on the market. First, there are the chat applications for quick messages like HipChat and Slack. Then there are those who position themselves as communication hubs, providing integration with different information sources, such as personalized portals or dashboards. Even other approaches look at project support by bringing all relevant information together in a project dashboard, like JIRA. With the possibilities of the current information technology, information needs can be differentiated and even targeted based on situational context.
How to look for email alternatives?
Looking for alternatives, focus should be on a number of central elements in communication:
- purpose and goal of communication
- and method of address