email, spam

Will we really be using less email in 2015? That’s the latest prediction from Unify, a company that sells unified collaboration software, and wants to wean us off our email addiction.

Paul McMillan, senior director at the company’s technology strategy team, says that email is outdated. “The idea is that if you have a platform, giving you a lot of other capabilities, and you start to move away from these technologies,” he said. “People have been using this band-aid because they haven’t had these other kinds of tools before”.

He’s saying this because Unify wants to sell you Circuit, an online service that brings video, audio, and social media conversations together in the browser. By ‘social’, he means group chats that multiple people can participate in, which are always there, available for people to drop in and out of.

“We created this persistent conversation model that can be private or public, one-to-one, or group-based,” McMillan said. With online conversations that every participant ‘owns’, it has some overlap with collaboration services like Stewart Butterfield’s Slack, which also enables people to communicate asynchronously in conversations that persist online.

But weaning people off email? That’s a tall order, especially from a spokesperson that says Unify will be integrating email into Circuit anyhow within the next few months.

McMillan insists that email is on the wane, pointing at reports from companies including McKinsey, which said in 2012 that employees in ‘knowledge worker’ jobs spent 28 per cent of the time coping with bulging inboxes. Another 19 per cent of the time was spent tracking down information to complete various tasks. The information is buried in email, which is sometimes difficult to navigate when looking for old information.

Companies like Atos in Europe have already undertaken zero-email policies in an attempt to free up worker resources. Atos is a company that focuses on technology as its business, though. It’s fair to say that most of us are still stuck using old systems, and this is unlikely to change, given the huge amount of information already buried there, and the difficulty in migrating it somewhere else.

Something that seems more likely is another prediction of Unify’s: that work-life balance will become increasingly complex as working patterns change. McMillan prefers to call it “work-life integration”. What’s the difference?

“We call it ‘the new way to work’. It reflects the border trends in the market, we don’t have this ‘punching at nine and punch out at five’ separation between work and life,” he said. Catching time to communicate with people wherever you are is important, he said, especially if you can do that during periods of downtime. Five minutes spent waiting for a train or hanging out waiting for the kids to get out from school could be a good opportunity to crank out some text communications, the idea goes.

That definitely resonates, but t’s something that will be more suited to asynchronous communication, and probably without video or voice which are more synchronous in nature. In fact, this kind of downtime-based communication something that people have been doing for years, with their BlackBerries – using good old-fashioned email. Having said that, the ability to communicate in a social media stream, tailored to a particular team, would be particularly useful in this context.

Email is likely to be around for several years to come, but we will start to see corporate social communication encroach on it. As Slack’s Butterfield has told us, though, people are less likely to simply run away from email than they are to run towards something else.

For the large proportion of Canadian businesses who are relatively small and non-tech savvy, old-fashioned IMAP and Outlook are likely to be lodged solidly in working practices for a long time to come.



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