Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Email Has Failed Us - What To Do Now?

It's been a long time for most of us since email was something other than a depressing form of slavery in our work and social lives.

Either we receive too much unsolicited and irrelevant email for us to find the useful messages, or we chain ourselves to an hour or more each day answering correspondence just to keep the pile from growing out of hand.

From the other side, it's also become common for us to send a carefully crafted message to someone and discover that they have only scanned it briefly, or that they've never even seen it in the blizzard of messages they receive. And heaven help us if they are trying to manage both work and personal email accounts separately.

I used to teach a micro-class in productivity that addressed some of this and offered tactics to keep the email pile to a manageable level. (Okay, I still teach the class, but I think the focus will begin to change.) We can talk all day about tactics, and maybe even adopt some of them as habits, but the root cause will not disappear.

There is good news however!

For me, the realization about the shift occurred a few months ago when I realized that I could not count on all the people in my complicated personal and professional life to respond in a fashion that I would dictate. (I know, I know! It's a pretty basic realization and I should have known this a very long time ago.)

Some people would respond to email very quickly, others slowly or never. Some people would reply to a voicemail message, but increasingly fewer people actually do this. Some people respond reliably to SMS messages, some to Facebook messages. Some people can only be found on Skype, others are ubiquitous on Google Hangouts and will respond if they are seen there.

What I had to accept is that if I want to get results from people, I have to go where they are. I needed to discover their preferred form of messaging and use that whenever I wanted to get their attention.

That seems crazy in a world that has all the things I just mentioned in addition to Hipchat, Slack, Glip, Yammer, and Lync. At the moment it would seem that the world is fractured into an archipelago of communication platforms.  (And if you're thinking right now about saying something that contains the phrase, "a plain old phone call," please don't. In this context it would be something akin to suggesting the purchase of AM radio advertising.)

So it seems crazy that I would say all this and then advocate using a specific platform. But I'm going to do just that.

You see, when I look around at what emerging fast companies are doing, and particularly the types of companies that I encounter a lot in the business marketplace, I find that they're increasingly using Slack.

I think part of the reason is that Slack is designed with an understanding of the troubles that previous approaches to team communication have suffered. It integrates with many (like really, many many) of the tools that engineering, devops, or sales teams are probably using.

And use cases have emerged that make it seem a bit like what people do with Skype group chats, a bit like IRC channels used to be, and a bit like group emails without the nastiness of the reply-all sinkhole.

After about three years of use and growth, Slack has a solid beachhead in the hearts and minds of the emerging millennial workforce, but of course that means that a constellation of competitors has popped into view. (Slack Alternatives) But given the maturity of the platform, the enthusiasm of the user community, and the features that Slack offers over Skype for teams, it looks like a good bet for the future.

I've certainly found it useful in working with a variety of teams up to this point, and will continue to watch to see if it's the long term survivor, or if there will be yet another choice that supports our workplace of the future.