group collaboration
Email has its time and place, but it shouldn't sit at the top of the corporate communications food chain PHOTO: johanna kollmann

How many more times do we have to hear email is king of workplace communications

As a former CIO at an insurance provider with over 30,000 deployed Yammer seats, I couldn't help but add my two cents to the discussion.

While email remains a critical form of communication in the workplace, the idea that it is king or top of the food chain of workplace communication represents a very narrow view of enterprise communication. 

The Social Technology Market Is Growing

Arguing email is the future of intra-company collaboration is like arguing in 1950 that radio would remain the primary info-tainment platform. Radio is certainly not dead — many of us still listen daily —  but richer, more innovative content delivery platforms have transformed the way people listen to music and consume information.

It’s a view that doesn't reflect reality, particularly in enterprise environments, with respect to people, communication and collaboration inside a company.

A Nov. 2016 study by Persistence Market Research titled, "Enterprise Social Networks and Online Communities Market: Global Industry Analysis and Forecast 2016–2026," predicted the global enterprise social network and online communities market will grow from $2.6 billion in 2016 to $12.18 billion by 2026. The analysis, research and forecasting is voluminous. I recommend C-suite decision makers conduct the due diligence needed to clearly understand the rise of enterprise social networks.

In fact, Microsoft announced 125,000 organizations use its Microsoft Teams collaboration tool as of early September, up from 50,000 organizations at its initial launch in March.

For simplicity's sake, let's define social technology as the large set of technologies that are a.) not email and b.) used by employees to communicate with each other. I'll save parsing the subsets for another day. For now, let's agree to lump Slack, Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook, Chatter, WhatsApp, Messenger et al, into the same category.

People (And That Includes Employees) Are Hungry to Collaborate

During my senior year in high school I had a strange principal (bear with me here). He had a framed comic on his wall that portrayed a man staring at a cloud of dust disappearing into the distance. The caption read: "I must hurry and follow after them, for I am their leader" (with no apologies to Alexandre Ledru-Rollin). 

Why am I telling you about my high school principal? Because my mission today is to harangue CIOs, CDOs, CMOs and other C-suite executives to embrace and sponsor the adoption of social collaboration technology. For what it’s worth, these technologies have likely been adopted in various forms already without your stamp of approval. Are you OK with that from a security, risk and governance perspective?

Let's start by establishing the most obvious premise in history — people are desperate to collaborate. If Mark Zuckerberg and his teams of developers have proved anything, it’s that we will do whatever we can and use whatever tools are available to collaborate and achieve relevance: from drums and smoke signals to virtual reality and Skype. 

Just looks at any app store ranking of mobile Operating Systems and tell me what you see. Statista has a very telling graphic:

Millenials Must-Have Apps

Five of the top 10 apps are about collaboration (and Facebook owns four of them). A recent look at the Android store lists 10 of the top 12 apps as collaboration apps. Convinced yet?

Email Has Its Place, But Not as King

The reality is email is a highly limited platform for collaboration. As soon as we find better forms, we adopt them and use email only when it is the best option or makes sense to do so. I'm not arguing we should abandon email. It will follow its own evolution and retain a natural utility within the workplace. 

Let's just admit that collaboration platforms are not an either/or proposition anymore, that they are a "yes, and" proposition, just like media platforms.

So if I were still a C-level executive, particularly a CIO taking a position of "We don't need more collaboration tools in our enterprise — we have email (and my secretary handles my email for me)," or "We don’t see any evidence of people using alternative platforms and when we see it we block it," I'd be re-thinking my position about now. 

CIOs who say "no" all the time get fired. CIOs who fail to focus on competitive opportunities for the company ultimately lose relevance and get relegated to stewardship roles on the leadership team.

Moving From 'No' to 'Yes'

Human collaboration is the engine of progress — always has been, always will be. 

Any technology that makes communication, information sharing and productivity better, safer, faster and cheaper should be on your radar. 

My recommendation: look for ways to say "yes." Embrace and foster a culture of innovation through collaboration. Sponsor and drive it internally and work hard to ensure its widespread adoption. Anything less will likely leave you staring at a cloud of dust disappearing into the distance.