Insights Drew Carter

Dear Email: I Think We Should Break Up

Presented by: Forbes – June 13, 2019

Author: Drew Carter, Director of Currents Studio, Hendy

I remember the first time I saw you. It was 1992. You were a DOS-based email program, and we were both so young. It was my first “real” job, and you made me feel important. You taught me how to translate my feelings into words. Heck, you taught me how to spell. You organized all my meetings and politely reminded me if I was late. As if that wasn’t enough, after you helped me through my workday, you cheerfully followed me home and continued working through the night.

For 25 years you’ve stood by my side. I’ve never had a more loyal, constant partner in my life. There are no words to measure my appreciation for everything you’ve done. But if I’m being honest, lately I’ve felt the need for something more. Believe me when I tell you: It’s not you; it’s me.

I was telling the truth when I tried to break up with email. It really is me. My needs are evolving, and sadly, email is not. The problem is that we’ve developed communication tools that work in ways that email simply can’t. These new tools are like Swiss Army knives of communication, while email is an antique butter knife passed down from your grandmother.

In our personal lives, we’re deftly using everyday communication tools such as Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. These tools are designed for so much more than back-and-forth communication. They were created for sharing ideas, building relationships and connecting people on a deeper level. The result is an architecture that encourages dynamic relationships and organizes information in a way that frees up mental bandwidth and increases creativity and productivity.

The term “social media” may not belong in your workday. But as a technology, you’re probably already using it. You may be familiar with Slack, Basecamp or Microsoft Teams. These packages are very different from one another in approach and focus, but all share a common communication architecture around networking people. The key is facilitating connections, information and media in the context of conversation — while email merely delivers something from one place to another.

Facebook has been using an internally developed platform to work more efficiently and reduce reliance on email since 2011. In 2016, they introduced it to the public as Workplace. Remember, Facebook’s entire mission is to facilitate connections between people, so the people there know a thing or two about this topic. Innovative, forward-thinking organizations around the world are finding that harnessing more sophisticated communication platforms can spark major improvements to innovation and productivity, as well as strengthen organizational culture.

These emerging platforms can be used to create a workplace environment where individual contributions and the power of community collide. They are fertile ground for cultivating a culture that supports and celebrates work and the people behind it. When people are able to share and collaborate on ideas, the work is naturally elevated. Teams that effectively use communication tools that feel more like social media networks than email are higher-performing and more coordinated. They can self-organize, assemble and reassemble.

But before you delete Outlook, it’s important to remember that unlike email, which is ubiquitous, these emerging platforms won’t universally take on all your communications. And that’s okay for now. Choosing a platform that serves your organization internally can be more than enough to make change. When choosing a new platform, my advice is to stay focused on your desired outcomes, and work backward from there.

As Stephen Covey tells us, “The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” To that point, these systems will help build understanding, which is much more powerful than managing tasks.

It may seem like email is too big to ever die, but the graduating class of 2019 views it like a fax machine, and some don’t use it all. Fundamental changes are underway.

Realistically, email and I will not have a clean break. We’ll stay friends — the kind of friends that slowly fade away from one another as life pulls and pushes us in different directions. Eventually, we’ll all find ourselves in a relationship with someone new and exciting, and we’ll look back with a fond nostalgia for our old friend, email.