March 20, 2015

Is email killing your productivity? Here’s how you can beat it.

Take a look at all the software you use. Can you think of one that hasn’t been updated in 20 years? Give up? It’s email.

Most people are unhappy with email but they continue to use it because it meets their minimum needs. I was also one of them. The number of tools I used to manage my emails were staggering: From David Allen’s GTD techniques, to Chrome plugins, complex filters, smart categorizations, delegations etc. None of these tools could stop me from losing my personal war with email. The amount of email I was receiving was increasing faster than I could keep up. My inbox was always overflowing with messages waiting for me to take the smallest of actions.

Many people declare email bankruptcy. They inform all contacts that they can’t answer their email and encourage them to find a different form of contact. I guess that joke about email is true: email is biodegradable … the more email piles on, the older mail fades and is forgotten.

Future of work is not email

All this was before I started working at a company that used Convo instead of email for all internal communication. For the first time, I saw an organization functioning effectively without email. It was an incredible ‘a-ha’ moment for me. For the uninitiated, Convo is a collaboration platform for your company – a work social network. I’d like to share how & why you can break away from the norm i.e email and create a better future for your organization. A lot of people will not like this given that they’ve spend decades on email management and that’s okay. Like Gibson said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”.

 nash_blog

The Self-Documenting Company

When employees leave a company, they take key domain knowledge (often undocumented). You could keep their inbox for later reference but really, who has the time to search through thousands of emails? Which emails are personal? Which are related to a project? There’s no standardized categorization.

In contrast, when using Convo, you create a ‘Post’ and you tag relevant people and groups. This organizes the content using a shared understanding of those groups. For example, if your company was contemplating sponsoring an event like SXSW, the discussion would be in the Events group. Everything related to the conference would be searchable by anyone in the group. So, if you are late to the conversation; you could quickly search ‘SXSW’ and see all the conversations around it. Most importantly, the conversations are from both current and past employees. Visual Collaboration Collaborating over email, especially around text or documents becomes unwieldy very quickly. People copy/paste passages of previous emails to provide context. Before you know it, you have a 9-level deep quotation stream. Plus, it becomes even more unmanageable if you’re trying to collaborate around an image. With Convo, you can highlight part of a document (text or image) and give your feedback. When the person viewing the comment clicks on the marked text, they can zoom to the exact point in the document. This simplifies collaboration and brings in much needed clarity.

Not All Messages Are Created Equal

After running a company in the mobile messaging space for five years, I can tell you this: Group chat gets hard to follow at five people. The high volume of messages cause the conversation to breakdown after nine participants. Miss out on a chat for 10 minutes and you’ll return to see 100+ messages. Chat messages are low value and short compared to the larger-sized emails. But both of these are extremes. Comments on posts, on the other hand, are a good balance between these two extreme. They are meaty enough to have significant value and short enough to make collaboration fast. Also, if you have 100+ messages in a chat room and five of them need your attention; it becomes near impossible to collaborate around them. How do you refer to a previous chat message of a customer complaint in a customer care group chat? Convo has this great feature where it will auto-bubble discussed messages to the top and collaborations around that message will be threaded as comments. This naturally filters the important messages from the other messages. Chat is great for a quick collaboration among 4-5 peers but it’s no where near replacing email.

The Feel-Good Zeitgeist

When you deliver a report in a tough deadline, it’s rare for you to get emails of congratulations. Most people won’t send an email appreciating your work because it feels too formal. That’s where a network shines. Complete that report, get likes from your peers, your boss or from someone you admire in the company. It’s the same great feeling you get when you see a like on your Facebook post. These likes, however, are for actual work done. Thanks to the low-friction nature of likes, people love giving them and people love receiving them. It’s the feeling of being acknowledged and of being a closer tribe.

The Undistributed Future

We can’t get rid of email right away. But there’s no reason why you should lose valuable communications, hard lessons learned and experiences to email. At the very least, you should get your organisation’s internal communication out from email and onto a collaboration platform that is not vulnerable to people leaving and does not require people to formally document.

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Nash

VP Engineering, Convo

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