The first email was sent in 1978, that’s nearly 40 years ago. Since then, digital communication has moved on leaps and bounds with the likes of instant messaging apps, social media and project management tools. We are now in an era of instant, unlimited and constant communication with one another. Yet email remains the dominant communication channel for most businesses both internally and externally. Despite the fact it’s not instant, can take hours to be delivered, is messy for teams and can easily be ignored. Businesses are lagging behind the general consumer in their uptake and implementation of these new apps and tools.
Before we dive in, let me just state this isn’t a proclamation that “email is dead” or “email sucks” (although sometimes it does). Far from it. Email is very much alive and kicking, in fact just in the last two years CSS animations and massive data segmentation technologies have made email more interactive and personalised than ever before. Email is still a cost effective channel for ad hoc correspondence, marketing and general comms with the outside world. And it’s still hugely popular, with over 4.3 billion email accounts in existence and with year on year growth, email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But, and it is a big but, that doesn’t mean there aren’t wonderful alternatives out there for businesses to enhance and in some cases replace email as their primary comms tool.
Sadly, but not unsurprisingly the uptake of new communication tools has been slow. What appears to be happening instead is companies are embracing some of the digital new age philosophies and methodologies trending at the moment, such as email hygiene and inbox management, like ‘inbox zero’, and the ‘5 sentences or less rule’. Not to mention the myriad of plugins and extensions to make email more productive and responsive. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with these efforts in principal, Google’s Inbox for Gmail being a noteworthy mention, however this is the wrong way to solve the problem.
The issue with these philosophies and plugins is that they are an arbitrary and temporary fix for a tool that is now antiquated in the modern workspace. A car can be retrofitted and modernised, but it’s still restricted to four wheels and driving on roads. And that’s the problem with email, it’s not fit for purpose anymore (although it’s never been very good for conversations anyway). With all these enhancements, they still don’t correct the root problem: the protocols and structure that email is built upon hasn’t changed since inception and is holding progress back.
So what are the alternatives to our beloved email?
There are many different apps and tools from basic messaging services to full project management apps. Here’s my top 3.
Ask anyone who works with me and they’ll insist I must work for Trello (I don’t, I’m just a very big fan). I encourage everyone I meet and every client we work with to use Trello. At Runäway, we use Trello for all communication and project management tasks. It’s incredibly simple to use, has a wide array of customisations and a plethora of integrations with major apps from Dropbox to MailChimp.
Pros: Free with unlimited boards/cards, you can invite as many people as you like (paywall for some features), instant – real time collaboration, simple to use, powerful project management tools, reminders, commenting.
Cons: Initial learning curve, it’s simplicity while it’s greatest strength is also a weakness, too many lists and cards can get messy, some of the best features are paid only.
Slack will dramatically reduce your internal email traffic, period. Say goodbye to inboxes full of “CC’d” emails. Slack takes the formality of email out of comms so there are more water cooler moments and human interaction, whilst still being mindful of the project or task at hand. In short, things get done. It’s simple to use with good cross platform support and plenty of add-ons like Trello.
Pros: Instant communication, higher level of engagement compared with email, great for small and large teams.
Cons: Only free up to 10,000 messages, more of a vanilla communication tool with less project management functionality than Trello or Yammer.
Yammer is at its core a Facebook clone with a corporate slant. Which is a double edged sword. It works well with lots of users and can feel like a rewarding and engaging environment for discussions on work projects and social chat. However it can feel like a graveyard with a dead newsfeed from user inactivity and a small amount of users. The interface is also looking like a dated social network and is sorely in need of a reskin and some core functionality updates.
Pros: Anyone who has used Facebook will be immediately familiar with the interface and setup, news feed and chat with the ability to invite external members like clients and partners
Cons: Not as intuitive as Trello or Slack, dated, can be a little slow depending on setup, poor customisation and add-ons.
Notable mentions WhatsApp and Skype, which are great for remote distance conversations and group chat. Their limitations lie in the lack of cross platform support and inflexibility with projects, add-ons and attachments.
For management wanting to make the switch, there are three main barriers that will have to be addressed first before the business as a whole can move forward:
- Familiarity: Everybody knows and understands the concept of email, it’s used by billions and is simple. Why rock the boat?
- Cost: For the most part, email is either free or low cost. Any additional costs on top of email is a deterrent.
- Change: Nobody likes change, let alone a fundamental change in how a business communicates.
The way to overcome these challenges is to approach them in a pragmatic manner. There are plenty of case studies (Trello, Slack, Yammer) on the benefits of switching to one of the aforementioned or myriad of tools out there. The brilliance behind these tools is they all have either completely free use or extended trial periods, so businesses can test the water before making the leap. Ultimately it comes down to the will of the business to want to make the change and trialling any of the options seriously with full team support and engagement to make the decision.
In summary, what we’re talking about is not replacing email or even limiting it for external only comms, we’re looking at evolving communication internally to increase efficiency and productivity in the workspace.
If you need help transitioning from Email or want to know how any of the aforementioned tools could help your business, drop us a line and we’ll happily walk you through the process and offer up tips and advice along the way, we’re always happy to chat.
Did I miss something or not mention your favourite app? Let me know in the comments below.