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Four great reasons why email will never, ever die

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | Sept. 1, 2014
As we come back from vacation to an inbox filled with hundreds of emails, most of which we don't need to read, we might let out an anguished bellow and ask: when will we fix email?

Even in a team as small and tech-savvy as CITEWorld, we have basically abandoned our Yammer and gone back to email. One of the biggest problems? The only people who were consistently checking Yammer were doing so because they were getting email alerts about it...which begs the question, why not just use email?

What's more, an open secret about corporate social networks in most big companies is that most people who actually use them are junior people — the senior people use email. If you're lucky, on their Blackberry. If you're not lucky, because their secretary prints them out. But you need to reach the senior people. So you use email. And because they do, it trickles down.

There's nothing bad about social networks and other collaboration software — again, for key tasks they are much better than email, and have tremendous benefits. Three cheers for good enterprise collaboration software. But it will never replace email.

The phone is worse

There is another communication method that's just as saturated as email, and that's the phone.

But I hope we can all agree that this is worse in every dimension. It is synchronous instead of asynchronous. It is interruptive. A lot of people find phone interactions unpleasant. And finally — and this is crucial in some lines of work, but matters to office politics everywhere — it doesn't leave a written trail.

Email is a deliverable

Finally, one criticism sometimes leveled against email is that it's make-believe work that harms productivity: Time spent on email is time wasted.

But that's just not true. In a big company, emails are deliverables. Sending important emails to your team, to your boss, to your customers, that is work. Reading important emails is work. In many teams, the most important debate happens over email, which is a lot more efficient than many alternatives, especially meetings.

And it's a deliverable — it's something you're expected to do, and on the basis of which you will be evaluated. That's the essence of work.

While it's taken for granted that much email time is wasted, a good chunk actually is productive.

My point here is not to "defend" email. I hate the annoying parts of email just as much as you do (if not more — non-journalists have no idea how much email we get). But email is also an essential and quite often useful aspect of modern work. By all means, embrace new collaboration software. But don't kid yourself that it's going to get rid of email.


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