Email has had a long-lasting impact on the world of work. It has given us access to messages on the move and fundamentally changed the way that we keep in touch and complete tasks. But in the eyes of some users it has also become a curse. McKinsey found that the average office worker now spends 20 percent of their working week reading and responding to email. Other research found that the average inbox contains only 38 percent important, relevant emails, meaning that almost two-thirds of the contents in the average inbox is largely irrelevant.
Today email seems a curiously outmoded communication tool. Its very nature is one-directional, like sending a letter or a telegram, with no clear indication that it has been read or when to expect a reply. Contrast that to our personal lives where real-time social media and chat applications have become the de facto way of keeping in touch with people. These tools’ greater responsiveness are also making them an increasing popular choice in the enterprise environment.
The case against email
So is it time to call an end to enterprise email? Email is a one-way conversation and for all the benefits it has brought to the working world over the past couple of decades, it does put pressure on people. Email gives people a one-way task from another individual who does not know whether the other is busy or not.
Email also creates siloes of information. Inboxes essentially act as people’s task lists and information can risk being locked up in email and on attachments as employees leave companies and do not share or store that data centrally.
But perhaps email’s biggest downside in the modern era is that it simply does not enable collaboration. Workplaces are places of collaboration and digital technology can play a major part in empowering workers to collaborate. In that context, email looks very limited.
The case for ESN
Enterprise social networks, however, let us collaborate on our terms, in real time. They let us share information and store knowledge and documents without needing to send them as a big attachment to an email. They help us connect globally dispersed workforces and teams and increase information flow between colleagues.
With wider co-ordination and collaboration on key projects, employees now have a voice where they previously might have struggled to get their ideas heard. As just one example, Slack, the workplace collaboration tool, has 4 million daily users and a massive daily average user growth of 33 percent.
Making ESN work and driving adoption
One of the key success factors in ESN adoption is being able to secure sponsors or champions. It is about convincing key figures that the world has changed and that communications has moved on to be much more focused on collaboration.
So the onus is on internal and corporate communications teams to make the case for ESN, they have to make it make sense to one and all. Why did we integrate this kind of tool? Because we want to accelerate innovation and invite ideas and opinion from right across the organization.
Under ESN, traditional lines of command have changed. Everybody has the ability to ask a question and to collaborate in projects and initiatives. Because the line of command has changed it is also important to get human resources (HR) involved in setting up your ESN. Other business units have parts to play, but HR governs the way in which employees can interact with their managers and directors. Therefore they have a key role in putting processes in place to steer and manage that.
You also want your executives to be the leaders and lead by example. I like to refer to them as the ‘conductors of the orchestra’, since they are no longer just the person who owns the information at a senior level. Instead they are leaders and facilitators and must engage and interact with all stakeholders to get the best from their team, making ESNs a success in the end. Other potential ways of getting champions on board include ‘gamification’ of ESNs to drive usage and advocacy. At Orange we award badges and points for expertise and participation, and have had great success in driving adoption by making our ESNs ‘fun’ to use.
When you factor in the changing demographics of today’s workforce, the increase in Generation Y employees – who are, incidentally, tomorrow’s business leaders – and their expectations of communication in the workplace, enterprise social networks seem like a natural progression.
Typically employees gravitate to tools that help them do their jobs better and more easily. So just as email replaced the fax and mobiles replaced the desk phone, so it seems likely that ESN will bring a shift away from email. Collaboration is central to that.
Back in 2013 Gartner forecast that “Social networking services will replace email as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 per cent of businesses by 2014”. Perhaps they were a little ahead of schedule with that one but ESN does look like the app that will at least put an end to email overload.
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I have worked for 10 years to promote and implement services and unified communications and collaboration solutions. After presales, marketing and technical manager jobs, I am now Product Manager for Business Together Sharespace, our ECN solution, with the same enthusiasm to bring the technology to our customers with passion and energy.