There’s a great article by Dave Pollard about how an edict banning email might look. In summary it looks like this:
- For simple requests, use instant messaging
- For working on documents use screen sharing
- For FYI – post on e-library
- For surveys/opinion gathering, use survey tool
- For group training, use e-Learning
Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, I think this raises a question about whether or not Enterprise 2.0 tools need to be embedded into the existing workflow of employees.
Someone (apologies, I can’t remember who) told me that the real difference between Generation Y and the rest of the world was not that Gen Y was ‘good’ at technology and everyone else wasn’t, but that Gen Y had an intuitive understanding of which tool was best for any given situation. If you show a traditional worker how to use a wiki and demonstrate that it is better (in some situations) than email, they will try to use the wiki for everything. Most knowledge workers require one tool to do their job, they don’t want to have to think about what tool to use to communicate, they want to communicate in the easiest way possible.
I’ve noticed this in my own behaviour. If I see something interesting in Facebook I want to tell someone about, I’ll send them a message on Facebook. If I happen to have Twitter open whilst thinking about contacting a colleague who is on Twitter, I’ll use Twitter to send them a direct message. If Skype happens to be open as the thought crosses my mind, I’ll use Skype.
It takes a great effort to be contacted over one medium (say email) and reply via another (eg instant message). It takes you out of your flow.
This is why infamous ‘reply-all’ email chains happen, because a user receives the message in email, they reply in email.
What has to happen is that all the tools mentioned above by Dave need to be in context. I can live in my email client, if that email client also allows me to instant message / post documents to an on-line library etc. etc.
At Trovus, our email system prompts us if we send an attachment, asking if it is an internal email would it like the system to strip the attachment out, place it in our document library, and embed a link to the document in the email instead. We can manage our document libraries completely from our email client, there is no real need to use the document library’s web interface if we don’t want to, we don’t have to break our flow.
This is where the next innovation in ’email’ clients come from, you already start to see it as Microsoft embed OCS instant messaging into Outlook, and IBM Lotus Notes becomes a collaboration platform, which happens to contain email.
In short, the tools should do the thinking for us as to which communication mechanism to use – they shouldn’t require us to think.