Your email inbox might seem crowded, but consider this: There are more than 1 billion business email accounts around the world, with an estimated 100-plus billion work-related emails sent every day.
With such prevalent use, email is a ubiquitous part of office and work life. So why are so many people questioning its value and asking what the future holds for email? As the workplace environment evolves, especially with new technology arriving almost daily, it makes sense that email would get the brunt of the change. But is email going to die? Not quite. As it stands, the future of email falls into three categories: remove, maintain or change.
A business world without email may sound impossible, but it has been attempted by multiple organizations around the world with varying degrees of success. Nearly all organizations that try to get rid of email start internally by switching to a cloud-based collaborative system that allows employees to chat, correspond and work together virtually. Some companies have even resorted to an automatic response when an internal email is sent reminding the sender that the email won’t be responded to and that they need to use the collaboration software instead.
French company Atos attempted to cut out all internal email a few years ago, which is quite the feat considering the company has thousands of employees around the world. To push the effort, the CEO had to make it a huge focus of the company. He dedicated 15% of executive committee meetings to the project, sent thousands of managers to extensive training, and invested more than 500 times what a typical company invests in collaboration efforts. The result was that internal email dropped by 60% and the company’s operating margin increased by 1%. Examples like Atos show that it is possible to remove internal email, but it comes at a high cost of time and money.
Reimagining a company’s email policy internally is one thing, but employees still need to communicate with outside customers, suppliers and colleagues. For that, there’s nothing better than email.
In our modern world, even names are commonplace and not a unique identifier of a person anymore—there are multiple Michael Jones, for instance. However, the two things every businessperson has that are unique to them are their email address and phone number. When we email someone, no matter if they are a random acquaintance around the world or our next-door neighbor, we can be fairly certain we are reaching the correct person. That’s the value of email, and that is hard to replace externally. For external purposes alone, it’s hard to see email ever going away completely—it would take a worldwide shift to something new and better to make it happen, and the transition could take decades.
The happy medium between getting rid of email completely and keeping it as it is to modify it in someway. If the future of work relies on new technology and collaboration, it makes sense to imagine the next generation of email serving a similar purpose to pagers in the 1990s. If someone posts on the office’s collaborative system, sends a calendar invite, or tags you in a post, you could get an alert in your email that directs you to the correct system for the information. In the forward-thinking view of email, the purpose is to notify and direct instead of provide all the information. This system would seem to work better internally, but could also have success across organizations.
Email definitely changed the way we do business and opened doors around the world, and although it likely isn’t going to die any time soon, there’s a chance it might look different in the near future.
What does the future of email look like in your organization?
*Jacob Morgan is a keynote speaker, author and futurist.