As Workplace Communication Evolves, Email May Not Prevail

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It’s difficult to recall how the workforce operated in the pre-email era. Email has been the leading force of business communication for more than two decades, and today’s professionals spend about 6.3 hours a day sending and receiving an average of 123 emails. The vast majority of employees check their email before stepping foot in the office and many continue to monitor their inbox during weekends and vacations. Email not only facilitates work, it has become a form of work in itself. But despite its enduring reign as a workplace staple, the long-term viability of email as a primary communications platform is worth reassessing due to our nation’s changing professional demographics and the increasing functionality of “smart software.”

The newest generation entering the workforce—Generation Z, which outnumbers even millennials—clearly prefers social media, instant messaging, and texting to emails. In fact, a 2012 Pew study found that, while 95% of teens had an active online presence and 81% regularly used social media, just 6% of them sent emails—and these individuals are now joining organizations en masse.

Email may someday become obsolete, and employee communications will need to adapt to our nation’s shifting workforce. Despite its endearing history and nearly inseparable connection with the surge of the World Wide Web, email is not an effective collaboration tool, and the progressively outsourced global workforce is shedding light on its numerous vulnerabilities.

For starters, inboxes have become increasingly overloaded, including a high percentage of automated messages alerting users to their new followers, upcoming travel arrangements, or recent bank transactions (not to mention spam). Even regarding legitimate professional communications, crowded CCs and BCCs make it necessary to shift through endless repetitive email chains, and sending document edits back and forth further increases the likelihood of error and confusion.

Email is also one-dimensional and simply outdated. Consider the fact that 35% of 18- to 29-year-olds flocked to social media for information about this year’s election (with news websites and apps coming in second at 18%), suggesting that, even in terms of major world events, Generation Z prefers open forums and discussions to simply being told information. Collaborative software encourages that same kind of user experience, delivering information and comments in real time while inciting responses from numerous users. All data is easily accessible and searchable. As a bonus, these platforms are incredibly intuitive for most of the workforce regardless of industry, thanks to their familiarity with similar consumer-based product tools.

Mobile performance is another essential function of future platforms, as mobile devices continue to outpace computer sales and more and more workers are conducting work-related tasks on their smartphones and tablets. We have already started to see glimpses of new collaborative technology peer through our personal mobile devices—smarter, more intuitive augmented intelligence, such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. These burgeoning technologies can discern the meaning and context of what we want to say or what we are searching for and complement it with such visuals as emojis, photos, or videos.

Technological business solutions are typically designed to assist the end user in one of three ways: help them complete a task themselves, do it with them, or do it for them automatically. Truly innovative software strives for the latter whenever possible. Augmented intelligence is now being primed to provide predictive auto-respond messages, which could completely transform not only emails but the entire communications landscape. These prognostic solutions draw from past interactions and can increase productivity of digital workers by decreasing unnecessary distractions.