In many ways email has outlived its usefulness. Not only is it inefficient and often abused, but the nature of work and the role of communication in that work have changed. Yet, email is still the default medium for business communications. To stay competitive, business leaders must empower employees with new communication tools – tools that facilitate collaboration rather than get in the way.
Email can make even the best job loathsome. In his blog post Opting Out of Email. For Well and Good, Derek Handley writes, “I have learned … that a lot of us operate on auto pilot — lemming-like into the office, laptops up, crashing into the inbox and fighting with it for nine hours straight punctuated by rushed in-person meetings that generate more inbox artillery, shrapnel cc’d everywhere and at the end of the day or the week a sense of — What did we achieve? And are we happy with it, or ourselves? Often not a lot and no, not really.”
This doesn’t bode well for the kind of collaboration that today’s project teams are called to do. The creative brainstorming that leads to innovation does not happen in an email inbox. Collaboration and innovation require real-time interactions and live connections between people.
Interestingly, the next generation seems to recognize email’s futility. TechCrunch reported on a survey by App Annie, which found that “email is effectively dying among this crowd. Those aged 13 to 24 now spend more than 3.5 times overall usage time in messaging apps than those over 45 years old, while the older users still default to apps that replicate desktop functions, like email and web browsers.”
This generation isn’t only using messaging apps. “… [T]oday’s youngest users are also heavy consumers of video streaming services on their phones, the report found, noting that their time spent in the top 5 streaming apps on Android was over double that of those aged 45+. The younger users also accessed these apps more than 4 times as frequently on an average day.”
Video provides the immediacy that messaging provides and is more efficient than email. Cameron Craig, Polycom’s head of global corporate communications, uses a video collaboration solution for both scheduled and ad hoc meetings with team members around the world. “Video allows us to quickly get to the heart of what we need to do. It’s more effective than IM or email,” he said.
Craig said a conversation might start via IM and escalate to a face-to-face conversation via video. “In the world of communications, there is no one way or right way to achieve an objective. There are often multiple ways you can go about doing something and which one you choose is a matter of judgment. When you work in a field like that – and more fields are becoming this way – video conferencing becomes even more critical.”
The one thing video provides that messaging lacks is intimacy. Seeing one’s colleagues improves engagement and inspires creativity – a welcome alternative to “lemming mode.” It’s also more conducive to the fast-paced collaboration that so many businesses depend on for competitive advantage. Content can be shared in real-time from any participant’s device to reduce post-meeting inbox artillery and encourage on-the-spot decision-making.
To leverage video collaboration as a means to diminish email deluge, Craig recommends making a commitment to regular meetings and making an open-discussion forum part of the agenda. “Once you’ve established the regularity of the meeting and the opportunity and trust to speak freely, people start bringing topics for discussion to the meeting instead of creating the email string that ultimately goes nowhere,” he said.
Craig cautions that it may take some time to change the behavior. “People inherently turn to email because it seems more immediate. But once they learn that problems actually get solved when speaking face-to-face, they start to abandon the old email habits.”
Video also facilitates flexible work schedules and work-life integration in a way that email cannot. “We need to take the power back. We need to bring back what it’s like to just be in the world, in our every day living,” writes Handley.
The evolution of technology appears to be taking us full circle as we reconcile the ability to work from anywhere with the need for human connection. “At the end of the day,” said Craig, “it’s about technology getting out of the way to enable us to have the most human, the most life-like and authentic means to communicate.”
To be successful, project teams need the right tool for the right job. As Craig said, “Video works better for creativity because it’s more human.” Empowering employees with tools that enable them to work together face-to-face seamlessly, regardless of distance or location will improve the quality of their work and the business outcomes.