Despite its shortcomings, email is the foremost business communication tool, but its days might be numbered.
Email’s reign as the king of communications in business is hard to dispute, but for millennials, its rule is tyrannical. We’re the social networking generation after all; users of tools designed to facilitate communication, both public and private, by ditching the stuffy confines of email. The meteoric rise of instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and similarly the self-destructing video messenger SnapChat are only two recent examples of tools that have capitalized on alternative means of communication.
But most millennials know that going to work means leaving all their fun communication tools at the door. Instead of a quick group chat, working in a business environment often means coordinating a lengthy email chain, and managing an overflowing inbox. Let’s face it, email can be great but it’s difficult to manage and frustrating to sort through. How many files have you permanently lost to the void that is your inbox? Email will likely always have its place, and there are a wide variety of applications to help you make the most of it, from the business-first Outlook, to more visual programs like Airmail, or even clients like MailMate that focus on productivity and keyboard controls. But what if we were to ditch our inboxes all together, especially for intra-office communication (meaning email and messaging you send to co-workers and colleagues in the same company)?
Ending the prominence of email may be a wonderful dream, but it’s probably not going to be a reality any time soon. However, there are many applications and tools that are looking to end email’s communication dominance. Many offices now have some form of instant messaging tool for quick notes and informal conversations between co-workers, but those tools tend to have very limited functionality. Instead, applications like Slack and HipChat are combining the best parts of instant messaging with other tools like file sharing and task management to make office communicating uncomplicated… and maybe even fun.
The New Breed of Office Communications
Slack is a new communication platform that’s had a lot of recent buzz. In this interview with The Verge, serial entrepreneur Stewart Butterfield, the mind behind Flickr and now Slack, explained how the app had already attracted 125,000 daily users and 13,000 teams from global companies. According to Butterfield, Slack is the fastest growing professional software-as-a-service “thing” ever.
Spend even a little bit of time in Slack and it’s easy to understand where its success is coming from. At its most basic, Slack is an instant messaging application that lets users categorize their conversations into specific “channels.” Those conversations are then saved so users can easily pick up a chat later. The real power of the tool lies in its integrations. Slack lets teams pull in files from cloud-storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive, and share them within conversations. It also integrates with project management and task software like Basecamp and Asana, or help desk tools like Reamaze and Groove.
Slack may have all the polish of a finely tuned app but it’s not the only tool for businesses to turn to when considering alternatives to email. HipChat is also billed as a group chat and instant messaging platform. Instead of channels, users join rooms and can chat based on different topics, and conversations can be manually archived. HipChat’s platform lets users video chat with a premium subscription and it includes many of the same integration features as Slack.
If these tools sound too advanced for your team (hey, change is hard), starting with some of the integration tools is a great way to lessen the burden of a massive inbox. For example, a task management and tracking tool like Asana can dramatically lessen the number of emails being sent back and forth through the day. Even getting your team to start using a file sharing and storage service like Dropbox can help. These tools can be a great introduction to the next wave of collaboration applications, and hopefully the path to uncluttered inboxes everywhere.
Are you an email lover or hater? Tell us how do you communicate at work with a comment below.