In the age of activity streams and instant messaging, organizations are starting to feel the constraints of email. Many feel that email is broken and needs to be fixed in order to be relevant. However, no one seems sure how to fix it.
For one, spam is an ongoing problem on most people’s inboxes. Spam constitutes 78% of all sent email. The problem however does not end there. Email content is another problem. The content may be difficult to digest, or the sender may simply have used a different medium altogether, and instead, you are forced to waste precious time sifting through and reading the email.
Email continues to be the primary mode of communication in the business world, but value is diminishing in a fast-paced collaboration and content-centered world. When organizations try to use email for instant messaging, social interactions, or other aspects of communication, productivity and collaboration suffer.
The solution? Collaboration Software.
For true collaboration and productivity to take place, it needs to be instant and reduce redundancy. Teams need to be easily accessible and any communication taking place should not be lost along the way. Email is incapable of doing this. Activity streams on the other hand are built to offer the kind of functionality that email cannot. They are instant and any files or communications among teams does not have to repeated or sent back and forth. Everything is there for all to see.
When working with a team, the reality is file edits and revisions is not a one-time thing. Multiple edits and updates will need to be done and this can take some time without the right tools. In email, file collaboration introduces many redundant copies that may be difficult to monitor. Valuable feedback is lost along the way and teams generally have a difficult time following along on conversations.
Activity streams however, like those found on ESNs, offer new and better ways of collaborating on projects. Such platforms have no limitations on file-size, keep track of file versions, and even allow team members to instant message while doing all of this. This can greatly improve productivity and collaboration.
Many people use their inbox to capture and manage the tasks they need to get done. They may, for example, send emails to themselves as reminders or keep emails unchecked as a reminder to reply to them later. This approach however comes at too steep a cost. It will demand you keep your inbox open and resolve other incoming emails quickly in order to have a clear sight of your “to-do list.”
Even when emails are selectively placed into labeled folders, the messages are simply placed out of sight, which means out of mind. When you do finally come around to revisit your inbox, you still need to do something about them. There is no reminder to let you know which messages you should respond to promptly or those that can wait for while. It all depends on the labels you place on them.
Email is limited to what it can offer when it comes to task management. It does not properly define your work, process your tasks, and keep everything under control. Having a tool that you control is key to improving efficiency. ESNs, on the other hand, come with task management features that help you take back control of your work and processes, and with the activity stream handy, you will also be able to move updates directly onto your to-do list without much hassle. This is what a good task management tool should enable you to do.
Of all the things that the inbox has been able to do, the worst has been its inability to provide a chronological order of activities about your teammates and projects. Every update that comes to your inbox is in form of an email, and unless it is clearly labeled under the “subject” you have no idea what it contains. Furthermore, every email will have to be opened to read its contents.
Not so with activity streams. Activity streams on ESNs help you clearly see where it came from and its nature. Whether it’s a comment on a blog post, a published blog post, or simply a Like, everything is right there. You don’t even need to open anything. In addition, it is easy to follow updates to a blog post and watch the updates come in real time. You can either decide to act on the updates immediately or leave them for later. Everything will still be visible when you return.
The inbox problem is not going to go away soon or by itself. Email was created at a time before instant team collaboration, spam, and before remote workforces were widely accepted. The activity stream, on the other hand, came to relieve what the inbox was incapable of doing. With ESN adoption, you can take advantage of the more efficient and productive use of the activity stream while keeping the inbox in its proper place.
Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.
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