People started questioning whether email was dying in the mid-2010s with the rise of channel discussions such as Yammer. In 2018, Inc. Magazine declared that “Email is already dead” because Gen-Z won’t bother with email and the rest of us would catch on.
Email didn’t die then, and I don’t believe email is dying now. But there is a seismic shift in workforce communications driven first by the need to collaborate instantly to accelerate innovation, then by the Covid-19 pandemic, and now by hybrid work.
And as you will see, different generations have different preferences for communication modes such as email, chats, or discussion groups. Each communication mode has varying pros and cons. Taken together, all of these platforms can lead to confusion and poor collaboration.
With so much changing, how do executives keep employees focused on the company’s strategies and goals, communicating and collaborating?
Ineffective Collaboration and Communication is a Major Cause of Business Failure
Over 80 percent of employees complain that they receive too much email. (Evidence that email is far from dying.) While Inc Magazine’s prediction has yet to come true, the workforce is divided in their preference of communications between email, texts, and chats. Clients of mine tell me that their younger employees won’t open emails and only respond to texts, and their older employees prefer emails. No wonder 86 percent of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business.
According to Laurence Lock Lee of CMS Wire, business use of communications technology lags consumer use, often trailing consumer use by a decade. Mr. Lock Lee writes:
Today, while experiencing the most digitally intense working period ever, we have a smorgasbord of digital communication options. Like any good smorgasbord, you are spoiled for choice — and we all have our favorite go-to dishes. The difference in this case is that your choice will have an impact on the people you work with. If you choose to work in chat, then your colleagues have to work in chat as well. If you choose to work only in email, so will your colleagues. Digital communication use is like one large dating app! And the workplace is being forced to find perfect matches everywhere.
Technology No Longer Dictates Usage
The reality is that technology no longer dictates the frequency of interactions and responsiveness. Expectations do. Organizations that provide omnichannel support to their clients have studied expected response times. When an email is sent, the expectation is that the responses are in hours, if not sometimes days. However, chats set an expectation of a much faster turnaround—usually in seconds or minutes. CMS Wires benchmarking of channel discussions reveals that the first response usually occurs within the hour.
CMS Wire prepared the chart below. It shows the M365 Communications mode characteristics of emails, channel discussions, chat, and calls and meetings. The height of the bar shows the communication mode’s total usage. The lower axis shows the response time. The shading in each bar indicates the number of participants. Here are the results:
- Emails are most used and tend to reach fewer employees unless executives send all-employee emails. Response times are the longest, up to 24 hours. Emails also have the advantage of attachments and can be easily filed.
- Channel discussions can reach small to broader audiences depending on the number of threads in the messages, and the first response often comes within an hour.
- Chats are used less frequently but have very rapid responses.
- Calls and meetings are widely used and have immediate response times. But meetings have to be scheduled and attended in-person or by video conference.
Asynchronous, Synchronous, and Balanced Activity
CMS Wires benchmarking studies of 2,000 Microsoft 365 users across several organizations revealed the existence of workers’ synchronous, asynchronous, and balanced activity. Synchronous activity describes calls, meetings, and chat that occur at the same time for all participants. Asynchronous activity, however, means in channel discussions, SharePoint, and email, which occur at the convenience of the user. Balanced activity refers to when workers rightly balance synchronous and asynchronous activity to be effective collaborators and tuned in to the demands of the broader organization. Please see the chart below.
CMS Wires concludes that there are two distinct types of workers: those who prefer using Outlook email/calendar/meetings/chat and those who prefer Yammer/Teams channels/SharePoint/OneDrive. This partitioning is a problem for collaboration. Only a minority of staff are effectively balancing their activity between all three worker types. CMS Wires suggest that “balanced” workers have optimized their digital behaviors for maximum collaborative performance.
The balanced workers are staying aligned and up-to-date, contributing to the communications with their team members and stakeholders, and keeping a pulse on the information they need from the larger organization and its customers.
Remember the research above that shows 80 percent of employees complain they get too much email? Another expectation executives can set is to limit the volume of emails. For example, employees can include only those who need to know on emails and not “respond all” when responding to only the sender will resolve the issue.
Executives Need to Set Expectations
For executives, it is essential to understand these dimensions and set expectations and ground rules on the use of communication modes. This is doubly true in the era of hybrid working and setting clear communication and collaboration exceptions across the generations.
The ground rules may include:
- Responding to calls immediately
- Responding to chat room discussions within the hour
- Answering emails within four hours
- Attending required meetings and video calls.
Is email dying? No. But executives must set expectations for all communication modes on responsiveness and collaboration. Additionally, leaders need to remind employees to stay focused on the company’s strategies, goals, and new initiatives – in addition to their team communications and collaboration.
About Victor Assad
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and managing partner of InnovationOne. He works with companies to transform HR and recruiting, implement remote work, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.