Do you remember that old familiar chime “you’ve got mail!”? You couldn’t wait to open the mailbox flag icon on your desktop that signaled a new email message was waiting to be read. Unfortunately the more common feeling today is one of dread and agony. 


We open our Inbox and begin sifting through the hundreds of thousands of emails of the day -- most of which are irrelevant and unimportant – before we’re able to find and respond to more urgent messages.  

When you consider the many new social collaboration and social networking tools now available to help professionals and businesses communicate and collaborate with their peers more efficiently, it’s mind boggling to think many people in the enterprise still get weighed down with the daily confines of email.

Why the Hesitation to Collaborate Socially?

Similar to Shakespeare’s famous quote “to be, or not to be,” many organizational leaders today struggle with the decision to remain in the comforts of communicating with colleagues through familiar email platforms, or to move to more advanced social collaboration platforms that encourage communicating and sharing between teams in real-time. And in this later scene, significant benefits can be received such as increased employee engagement, knowledge sharing and productivity.

There are some common reasons for this hesitation or slow adoption rate of social business tools. For instance, sometimes when organizations’ IT departments push user adoption, they mistakenly place greater emphasis on the tools as opposed to highlighting the improved business process or mission critical work that results from the new tools which can delay the shift.

Many times, group leaders are reluctant to join in without seeing a clear path to value and ROI from the onset. There’s also some interfusing of the terms being used to define the social business space, including social media, social networking and social collaboration, complicating matters even further.

To be clear on this, social media and social networking connects people more on the individual, peer-to-peer level and the exchange is happening outside the organization. Whereas enterprise social collaboration tools are for engaging teams and groups within the organization to encourage collective sharing for solving business problems and for improved business performance.

Also, since email is universal, it remains an easy and convenient platform for teams and individuals to communicate across regions and domains.

To Email, or NOT To Email

Email offers the luxury of being able to send, open and read at any given time. If your goal is to send out a message that doesn’t require an immediate response or input from multiple people, email can be a perfect option. Email also proves to work extremely well when sending confidential or restricted information, or if you want to control the content or broadcast a message to multiple contacts as part of an online marketing campaign.

However when it comes to collaborating with teams on time-sensitive projects, or to gain critical insight from others on documents and business decisions, email has proven time and time again to be a major hindrance to an organization’s productivity.

The obstacles presented by email for group communication and collaboration can be summarized in four points:

  1. E-mail lacks filter systems -- Because email platforms lack adequate filter capabilities, inboxes can easily become clogged with spam and additional unwanted or low-priority information. Email becomes more of an information repository than a mission critical means of communication, significantly slowing down productivity as employees take extra time to weed through junk mail and neglect more pressing matters needing immediate response.
  2. Inconsistency in the delivery and response due to email trees -- While one person in a team may hit “reply all,” others may forget or only copy a few in their response. People who may be critical to a decision could be left out entirely.
  3. Streams of communication can become interspersed, repeated or even worse, lost in translation -- This can cause major delays and inefficiencies in decision making. How can all people involved offer input or value based on previous information and ideas shared if they’re not able to see relevant conversation threads?
  4. Organizational assets can be withheld – Information exchanged in email tends to be locked in silos -- which can become a problem when a key member leaves the company. Valuable knowledge could be lost in personal inboxes instead of shared, accessed and retained corporate wide.

The Value of Enterprise-wide Social Collaboration

Social Collaboration’s true value is recognized when a company wants to have conversations among multiple employees at the same time and get collective, informative feedback instantly, to address burning issues or questions.

This is where social collaboration can be most effective; it eliminates the time spent digging through email and overcomes global barriers, while also creating an atmosphere to easily tap into the talents and ideas of knowledge experts across the organization.

Listed below are numerous benefits and competitive advantages that organizations receive from making the switch from email to a social collaboration platform:

  • Provides a more efficient way for managing communication -- By providing a single social platform for users to collaborate, multiple employees can communicate with each other in real-time, instead of waiting for feedback on documents via email.
  • Improves employee engagement -- When working with a team or group with common interests on a specific project or business process, these tools encourage sharing and engagement due to the open, transparent nature of a the communication platform.
  • Fosters creativity and innovation -- Through crowdsourcing, team members can brainstorm together for innovation based on collective ideas and decisions.
  • Leverages or uncovers hidden talent -- Offers easy access to knowledge experts to weigh in on specific topics and discussions.
  • Increases productivity -- Brings people together to brainstorm solutions and solve complex business challenges quickly and efficiently. All team members can see filtered conversation threads, and therefore can offer instant, valuable insight and feedback as opposed to searching through inboxes. According to a recent McKinsey study, improved communication and collaboration using social technologies can increase productivity by 20 to 25 percent.
  • Breaks down silos -- Helps teams work more effectively across departments and regions, especially when in remote locations.
  • Promotes transparency – Information that can be used by more people within the company, does not sit in an isolated environment but is available and is retained for anyone when they need it or want it.
  • Secure and reliable means of communication -- Advanced social collaboration platforms provide a secure environment for conversations to happen in real time.
  • Easy to filter, save and file information -- Unlike email, conversation threads are filtered to provide relevant, time-sensitive information. Messages are more easily searchable and presented within context.

When implemented and managed correctly, social collaboration tools can provide major benefits in solving business problems through collective brainstorming and knowledge sharing, and tapping into experts on specific conversations or topics. Teams are at a business advantage for innovation, greater efficiency and rapid problem solving than those who still rely on email.

Image courtesy of Nikola Bilic (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Curious to read another perspective on email? Read Erik Hartman's Email Isn't Dead Yet