The Personal Email Tipping Point

By BroadVision on September 01, 2011

A recent survey conducted by Robert Half Technology of 1,400 CIOs of American companies with more than 100 employees suggests that real-time communication tools such as instant messaging will be more popular than email within the next five years.

A press release issued by RFT cited benefits such as speed, convenience and the “social aspect” of IM and collaboration tools such as blogs, forums and wikis as the three main reasons for this potential shift. Back in January, our CEO explored the downsides of email in his post Friendly Spam and Hidden Costs. In both cases, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there are many upsides to social business tools and too many downsides to email to continue using it as a primary communication tool for work.

It’s difficult to say when exactly, but there was a time when email went from being a novelty to being a necessary component to work. There was certainly a time when people could get away with saying they never checked their email, and if you wanted to contact them, you’d need to call. At some point, there was a shift and this was no longer acceptable. For many, it’s difficult to imagine giving up email in the workplace. I suspect, though I have absolutely nothing to back this up, that the shift from snail mail and the phone to email was a result of two things: mandates from leadership and personal epiphanies regarding e-mail’s virtues. I believe that the same is true of moving from email to social collaboration tools.

My personal epiphany about email happened about twelve years ago when I was an intern at an independent record label. It was often my responsibility to contact owners of local venues that would be hosting one of our bands and ensure that they had been using the promotional materials we had sent them: posters, flyers, swag, etc. As this was one of many things I did throughout the day, I always tried to get through with the calls as quickly as possible. But the venue owners always wanted answers to questions, about things like contracts, that an intern such as me could never possibly know, and the calls would go on and on before I could ever get the information I needed. One day, my manager suggested I try email instead. At that point my experience with email had been shaky and I didn’t always expect to get a response. But it worked brilliantly, and I started using email almost exclusively. I almost always got what I needed in the fraction of the time, and could even forward their questions to the right people.

Of course, it didn’t always work. Sometimes they wouldn’t answer my question correctly. Sometimes they would answer a question I didn’t ask. There were plenty of times that I never got a response and had to call anyway. Obviously email wasn’t perfect, but it was the best we had, and it made my life a lot easier.

Flash-forward today and we have something much better than email. I’ve had many, many moments of clarity when I’ve realized that collaboration tools had much more to offer than email: getting press releases approved without filling a half dozen inboxes with one sentence back and forth conversations, posting a case study to our intranet and getting feedback on a from a larger pool of coworkers, finding inspiration in a blog post that might have gone overlooked if it had been an email and many more.

We’re currently accepting submissions for the Clearvale Success Awards in which we’ve invited people to share their experiences with Clearvale, and how it has helped them work better. I am looking forward to the results not just because it will help us serve our customers better, but because I am curious to learn about the personal tipping points many people have experienced using collaboration tools.