We all use email whether we want to or not. Nearly everyone relies on it as much as many of us hate it and we mostly use it because everyone else does. An interactive presentation in Harvard Business Review this month by Barry Gill made the statement, “Email: Not Dead, Evolving.” Being in the ’email is dying’ camp, I had to see what Barry had to say:
Periodically you may hear digital hipsters claim that e-mail is dead. Don’t believe them. People still spend half their workday dealing with it, they trust it, and overall they’re satisfied with it, according to our 2012 survey of 2,600 workers in the U.S., UK, and South Africa who use e-mail every day. E-mail is not dead, it’s just evolving. It’s becoming a searchable archive, a manager’s accountability source, a document courier. And for all the love social media get, e-mail is still workers’ most effective collaboration tool. It’s far from perfect: Three-quarters of all e-mail is junk, and we’re wasting lots of time dealing with less important messages. But it remains the mule of the information age—stubborn and strong.
Wait a minute…am I reading this correctly?
A searchable archive – Email is evolving into a searchable archive? Really? That’s a version of evolution? Haven’t we been searching content for a while now and far more effectively than email?
A manager’s accountability source – I guess if the job is so programmatic that email is a an accountability tool…um…maybe. As a manager, I know who’s doing their job not by email (at all…I mean at all), but by their organizational effectiveness and the value they generate for the company. Email is a coward’s accountability tool.
A document courier – It’s hard to believe there aren’t far better ways to manage and move documents than email. Oh, wait…there are. Outside of legal docs, the rise of DropBox and other cloud apps shows us that having a single version of the truth far outweighs the multi-version nightmare of email for real work to get done.
Call me a hipster, but I find newer tools to be far more effective and easier to use as well.
Matter of comfort
Rather than say email is evolving, I’d say people are stuck in a mass-comfort zone and the effort of getting used to collaboration tools isn’t perceived as worth the value, unlike when email arrived and was a sea change from the past. The real evolution isn’t the email platform, but our own ways of thinking about collaboration.
The same report says that 30% of respondents find email difficult to use, meaning that there’s a disconnect between what we do with email and how we feel about it. We’re humans and that’s not very surprising. Here are the other figures that support that we have a love/hate relationship with email (and that something has to give:
- Time spent on email: 50%. Time spent managing, archiving and searching: 22%. Consider the productivity lost in that math.
- Email access points: 60% work laptop/PC, 8% mobile device. As work gets more mobile and flexible, this points to email as a stationary channel.
- Uses for email: 76% for exchanging documents. This is arguably the least efficient use of email with so many portals, document repositories and cloud storage sites.
This report struck me more as a defense of the status quo than an indicator that email is evolving in a meaningful way. In the graphic below, I see a massive amount of organizational churn, not a sign that email is headed to a better place. I’m on vacation now and watching ‘real-time’ streams of email on my phone truly highlights the time wasting going on.
Email is Tyrannosaurus Rex, at the top of the food chain. But that dark spot in the sky? That’s the enormous meteor approaching.