Are millennials killing the email?

For millennials, instant forms of communication such as WhatsApp and Facebook chat are the preferred style of messaging, as opposed to the more formal format of email.

But should businesses adapt in order to engage with this group more effectively? If the answer to this is yes, next we have to ask whether and how new collaborative technologies could actually replace the email. And if so, should they?

Technology we use in our day-to-day lives will not always be transferrable to a professional environment. The free flowing format of instant messaging may be what millennials want, but businesses need to ask whether these tools will best serve their objectives.

> See also: In the digital economy, how can businesses keep the millennial generations happy?

For some companies, email has its appeal as it offers established compliance, auditability and control benefits. For firms looking for more instant, open communications, the likes of Yammer and Slack may be more suitable. The first step is to identify what the business actually wants to achieve, and then consider what solution will best meet these needs.

What do businesses want?

Unlike email, instant messaging platforms can bring an element of chaos. Message threads can become long unmanageable streams of unverified 'chit chat', making auditing very difficult.

However the small number of employees in SMEs makes them well suited to using instant messaging to share information in the workplace as their size make the communications more manageable. Larger businesses on the other hand, that often have siloed departments, are still communicating in the same way they were in the 1990s; via email.

This loyalty to the email means that two central aspects of day-to-day working remain disconnected from each other: the digital communication between employees and the work output itself.

For example, employees may have an email exchange before deciding upon a course of action, but then switch from email to a file-based working environment to edit a Word, PowerPoint or Excel document, before again returning to email in order to send the completed document for review. This is clearly a tedious process.

Socially, millennials are used to a ‘followable’ environment with seamless, real-time information sharing. So, naturally, why would they want to email their colleagues with a link to a file every time a change is made?

By placing this activity directly into a collaborative environment, teams could synchronously work together, removing the version control issues and delays that leave not just Millennials, but everyone feeling frustrated.

Communication is a means to an end

Business communication is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Many business users want to achieve closer integration between day-to-day communication and the processes required to get the work done. This is a key point – it is not just about talking, but actually creating something.

The market of applications available for this purpose is continuing to grow, from message aggregators like Slack to social document authoring tools like Quip or GoogleDocs. For millennials, the challenge they are currently facing is trying to patchwork together a better, more social way of working that avoids a sole reliance on email.

At the moment, this patchwork quilt is still the preserve of individuals and SMEs, however. Even Slack’s high profile growth and media awareness has not established it as a pervasive way of communicating in the enterprise. The same was true of Yammer five years ago, despite being the self proclaimed 'Enterprise Social Network'.

What needs to be asked is why these communication platforms are not taking hold in the enterprise. Are email and attachments persisting because work continues to be authored off-line? If so, we need a new way of working, not a new way of talking, to address the root cause of off line working.

So where are we now?

Quip is a simple social authoring tool, and its multi-platform, lightweight user interface is certainly intuitive and easy to adopt. Could an entire enterprise use it instead of Microsoft Office, though? No. And that is not its purpose.

> See also: The evolving role of internal social networks in the workplace 

GoogleDocs has been adopted by some enterprises, and with its Microsoft Office style tool set, it offers enough familiarity for workers to abandon Office. However, even with that switch, users are still ending up using Gmail instead of Outlook to have conversations around the files they have produced, meaning that their working behaviour ends up being much the same as before – just with different tools.

As an industry, venture-backed start-ups need to focus on taking the time for deep thinking, complex design and substantial build out, not speed to market or speed of growth.

Until such a rigorous approach to enterprise software development is taken, millennials will not be able to drive the change they desire and replace email with a form of communication and style of work that best suits their desires and abilities – at least not entirely.

Sourced from Tristan Rogers, CEO, Concrete

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...