Email Is Not the Best Solution for Collaboration

It's time to rethink this everyday communications tool.

learn more about Yves Schabes

By Yves Schabes

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Email has been used for decades as a simple collaboration tool by millions of individuals and businesses. Many of us, however, are growing disenchanted with what we see as an outmoded communications tool: We're complaining about inbox overload, frustration and lost productivity.

Related: A 5-Step Solution to Cut Down Time Spent on Email

Research backs us up: McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the average employee spends 28 percent of his or her work week (13 hours a week) just reading and responding to email, and other studies have identified frustration with email as a top complaint. This is why we're seeing a growing field of entrepreneurial companies that are radically rethinking email and how we communicate online.

Business and social interactions as well as the technology platforms used to accommodate them have evolved. Today, businesses and consumers seek conversational tools that allow for better collaboration and information sharing. What's news is that the next generation of communication software acts more like a private social network, helping people communicate more efficiently with friends, co-workers and customers.

Email certainly has its strengths -- short, limited or one-time communication. However, for communicating with a group or team, better solutions exist for facilitating group collaboration, organizing conversations and topics and quickly accessing files and adding or removing people from conversations.

Challenges of email as a primary communication tool

Email is good for short communication where you expect an immediate response. However, if you are collaborating or working on a project, email breaks down.

Organizing your emails is another, ongoing task that is time-consuming when you try using labels and folders.

Other challenges include forwarding long email threads, which often have multiple topics and recipients; collaborating with work groups without always having to "reply to all"; on-boarding on to a project new team members who need access to past emails; and re-focusing after reading one email and then going to another topic.

A study in 2007 revealed that a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks after responding to incoming email or instant messages. In short, email reflects the communications expectations of past generations, and isn't the tool of choice for the millennial generation, who have grown up texting and using social media.

Related: Stop Using These Words In Your Emails

Communication now reflects the style of a new generation.

Today's best new collaboration technologies are ensuring that your conversations are organized before they even begin because you send messages only after first setting up the topic or channel.

These technologies are also solving the problem of lost emails and shared files in your inbox. They're encouraging the sharing of ideas, by sometimes using formats inspired by social media ideas such as the hashtag from Twitter, and the idea of posting shared comments from Facebook.

Such applications are providing conversation platforms which allow teams and groups to communicate smarter. At Chooka we worked with a team of developers from around the world to create an application which integrates the social media concepts of posting, followers, and hashtags -- already in the vocabulary of our generation – plus the new concept of the "ampersand," the first symbol to designate a conversation.

Overall, we're experiencing a national trend in collaboration software that is rethinking email and how we communicate online; the trend includes household names like Google, Facebook and IBM. These new communication tools are no longer just for enterprise customers; small and medium-sized businesses, as well as start-ups, are turning to them to increase productivity.


These new collaboration technologies won't replace email, which is still useful for short communication, but they will complement it, for better collaboration. Both individual users and business users will continue to shape and adopt communications technologies to embrace a more natural, flowing and easily organized way of communicating.

With the emergence of the millennial workforce, this trend will only continue to grow, making these new software and applications mainstream.

Related: How Fortune 500 Leaders Spend Every Minute of the Day

Yves Schabes

Co-founder, Chooka

Yves Schabes, Ph.D., is co-founder of Chookka, a conversation platform for organizing and sharing discussions, documents and media that works alongside existing email. Schabes also co-founded Teragram Corporation in 1997. The text analytics company was acquired by SAS in 2008.

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