While Google’s new Inbox app will likely not bring the end of email (as some are claiming), it does achieve at least one important thing: it’s got us asking, “What’s wrong with email, anyway?”
Well, maybe it’s us.
Email, which began as a digital postal service, has transmogrified into a task list, calendar, day planner, collaborative workspace, workflow manager, and countless other applications. Entire websites are dedicated to showing you how to use your inbox as something other than an inbox.
In short, we’re not using it like just a messaging service. Email is broken because we broke it.
Some Attempts to Fix How We Use Email
Several different solutions have tried, and only partially succeeded, in improving the email experience. Filters, labels, folders – each of these is an attempt to solve a fundamental problem with email.
For some, the main problem with email is too many messages. Many of us receive dozens or hundreds of emails daily. Often, those messages get left unopened or sit in our inboxes forever.
To combat the inbox with 16,000 messages (we all know that guy), Merlin Mann devised “Inbox Zero,” an email management system based around keeping your inbox empty at all times. While this works well for a small group of users, most of us don’t have time to process our emails multiple times, as the system directs.
Others think email’s problem is how it’s used for all messages, from urgent messages to spam. This leads many to constantly check their messages – a distracting and inefficient way to stay on top of tasks.
Claire Burge attempted to solve this problem by quitting email altogether and force communication on other platforms. It may work for her, but it definitely isn’t the right fit for most companies for whom email is still the backbone of their communication.
A quick search shows many, many others have tried to solve email’s problem (or the problems of how we’ve come to use email). Some use automation to filter out all but the most persistent messengers. Others use filters, labels, and folders to try to sort it all automatically, or multiple inboxes to be more efficient in checking email from a single place.
Unfortunately, all of these solutions still rely on the human behind the keyboard to follow them consistently. How many times have you tried a new system for handling email, only to return to your old habits? (Probably lots.)
The reason why we keep going back to using email wrong might have to do with business DNA.
Email’s Fundamental Design Problem for Business
The problem with each of these email alternatives is they leave most companies in a communication vacuum. There’s a reason email has been so difficult to grow out of for most businesses: in the way it’s often employed, email is simultaneously less than ideal, but completely integral.
The model for how email is handled hearkens back to the days well before digital communication. Sending physical messages to a single inbox, waiting, and receiving a reply from the recipient was simply what business communication looked like for centuries.
When email got on the scene, it was essentially a digitized version of this legacy process (and frankly, still is). Instead of a redesigned method of communication, an existing tool was shoehorned into performing functions it frankly was never designed to do.
Here are some of the problems with email for modern business:
- No intelligence. All messages go into the same bulk inbox.
- Low security. Most email is handled through less-secure, off-premise email systems that are completely out of company control. This makes them vulnerable to the kinds of breaches that effectively give an email intruder access to a person’s entire digital life.
- Too much email we don’t care about. Since all messages end up in the same place, it’s up to us to sort through them. Plus, “Reply All” tends to be an annoyance more often than not.
- Many email clients aren’t great. The way we consume email is rapidly changing, and although great strides are being made, many email clients for mobile, tablet, and other devices simply haven’t caught up.
Note that each of the issues on this list – especially security and intelligent message management – are exacerbated when using an email platform that takes company data out of your control. Each of these factors contributes to how email is mishandled by end users, leading to decreased productivity and security.
Because traditional email is so deeply intertwined with how businesses communicate both internally and externally, it’s nearly impossible to quit cold-turkey. However, that doesn’t mean email, as we know it, is destined to be the designated corporate communication tool forever – or, for some people, even for today.
How to Fix Business Communication in 2015 and Beyond
For digital communication to finally live up to its productivity potential, companies need a platform that delivers the following features:
- Instant communication
- Security that’s resistant to hacking
- Intelligent message management to prioritize important messages
- Tracking to see who’s received a message and who hasn’t
- Archive message access to easily search and find important messages
- User-friendly and intuitive interface
Google is trying to deliver some of these solutions with Inbox, but it’s simply not the right solution for 99.999% of use cases. (Besides, they haven’t even released it for non-Gmail accounts yet.)
But Google isn’t the only player in digital communication platforms. If you look outside the world of Google Apps, you can find solutions for your business that deliver the features listed above. Best of all, you can implement these solutions today.
Some Alternatives You Can Use Today
Just imagine what would happen to your company’s productivity if workers could have a way to communicate important information but filter out all of the unnecessary stuff. Not everyone needs to view an invitation to Jim-from-accounting’s BBQ.
Many companies have found success when switching to email alternatives. That’s exactly what Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos, announced he was doing with his company back in 2013. By banning email and conducting company communication on platforms that are better suited to sandbox-like collaboration, Atos has significantly increased its productivity. (Thierry reports making the switch has led to a 50% increase in earnings per share and an overall 1% boost in operating margin.)
By trying an alternative messaging platform, one actually designed for digital communication, your organization might seem similar results.
For Those Willing to Live Without Email
If you’re ready to try a new, more effective form of corporate communication, we suggest a digital collaboration workspace and project-management platform like Novell Vibe. A powerful productivity and communication tool, Vibe helps businesses successfully escape some of the pitfalls of traditional email and have greater access to the information that matters. Vibe handles collaborative messaging elegantly, without the clutter of the average inbox.
Vibe’s built-in security features are based on cutting-edge security protocols and on-firewall protection, making it much more secure from attacks and hacks than cloud-based email and collaboration platforms. Mobile apps allow any team member to securely access projects, documents, and content on an interface optimized for mobile. Intelligently handling messages with Vibe is also simple thanks to automation features and workflows anyone (not just programmers) can create or modify.
Unlike email, Vibe allows you and your team to integrate important documents, plans, ideas, wikis, and even email to your collaboration space. This ensures important knowledge and information stay within your organization, even after the original contributors have moved on to a new team or left the company.
Vibe may be the complete workspace solution your organization needs.
For Those Who Like Email But Want a Smarter Alternative
Can’t seem to imagine a world without email? The fact is, email messaging is the core of personal productivity for a lot of people. When done right, email works well as a productivity tool. It’s simply that most platforms don’t handle email in the most productive ways.
If you’re not ready to ditch email for a different communications platform like Vibe, a powerful, cross-compatible, feature-rich, and most importantly, secure email platform like Novell GroupWise could be just what you need to up your game and make your email more meaningful. Its useful information Home View provides a personal productivity dashboard to get the most out of your time on the web.
Of course, collaboration has never been an either/or proposition, and the great thing about buying from a single company is that GroupWise compatible with, and complementary to, Vibe, allowing your organization to get the best of both worlds. You’ll have smarter collaborative messaging for day-to-day communication and a more traditional email platform (but with modern features and security) with GroupWise.
Whether you’re eager to ditch email for a smarter, more efficient solution like Vibe or simply want a better messaging experience through something like GroupWise, don’t feel doomed to use email. You (and your productivity) deserve better, and your 2015 performance reports depend on it.