Messaging, Collaboration Apps May Surpass E-Mail in Workplace Eventually

By Dinah Wisenberg Brin May 20, 2016
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Messaging or chat apps may eventually overtake e-mail as the dominant form of workplace communication, although the trusty inbox isn’t likely to disappear soon, experts say.

The next generation of young workers—Generation Z, who are roughly age 19 and younger—reportedly favor chat and messaging apps, and view e-mail as outmoded.

TheWall Street Journal recently reported that members of Generation Z add e-mail to their repertoire only when they enter the work world.

While young workers may have to adapt to the need for e-mail in the workplace now, the workplace itself may have to adapt to young employees’ practices in a few years.

“I think e-mail will stay around for years to come, but I think conversations between people have already started to transition away from e-mail to messengers, and we will continue to see this happening over upcoming years,” said Henn Ruukel, founder of business messenger Fleep, who was a founding engineer for Skype.

Fleep, based in Estonia, combines “team chat” and e-mail. It allows users to chat with partners and clients from web browsers or from iPhone or Android devices. Since Fleep integrates with e-mail, users can chat with other Fleep users or with anyone who has an e-mail address, Ruukel told SHRM Onl

ne.

Dallas-area HR technology expert William Tincup, CEO of HR consultancy Tincup & Co. and principal analyst at KeyInterval Research, told SHRM Online, “I think we’re going to see more and more applications like Fleep,” which he calls a collaboration tool that enables communication, file-sharing and knowledge management.

“On one level, this is an extension of some of the good work Yammer did,” Tincup said, referring to the San Francisco-based enterprise social networking service for intra-organizational communication. “With the bot revolution right around the corner, I think we'll see more peer-to-peer technologies like Fleep.”

Many people dislike e-mail and want to get rid of it, but as a society, we’re in between generations and technology shifts at work, Tincup said. “The technologies that understand that get more adoption. Imagine a world in less than five years where e-mail is not the dominant business communications application. Slack or Fleep or whatever comes next is,” he said.

Messaging software Slack, with free and premium services, counts NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lush cosmetics, SurveyMonkey, CNN and BuzzFeed among its clients. “Less e-mail, happier team,” San Francisco-based Slack says on its website, reporting that customers see an average 48.6 percent reduction in internal e-mail.

A survey from Slack published in 2015 also found that the company’s customers saw an average 32 percent increase in productivity and roughly 25 percent fewer meetings. The majority of its customers thought the product made it easier to find information, improved team culture and increased transparency.

“E-mail has had a wonderful run, quite frankly, but we’re all waking up to 200 e-mails, most of which are unsolicited, unwarranted and/or useless. I think that is why Slack has gotten the traction that it has,” Tincup said. “You work in the app. It’s based on short conversations.”

The irony of Slack, Tincup added, is that people can get addicted to it as they do with e-mail and it “can cause the same overwhelming feeling that e-mails cause. It’s a better way to work but not completely the future of communications at work. It’s a nice first step away from e-mail, though.”

Slack, he said, is “the dominant player in the communications/collaboration enterprise space right now. And deservedly so. It’s really easy to use and get addicted to. Really easy.”

Here to Stay for Now?

E-mail will be here for the foreseeable future.

A 2015-19 report from Palo Alto, Calif., technology market research firm The Radicati Group said that global e-mail use “continues to grow at a healthy pace,” with 2.6 billion users in 2015, forecast to increase to 2.9 billion by the end of 2019. “Over one-third of the worldwide population will be using e-mail by year-end 2019,” the report said.

“Though there is increased use of IM [instant messaging], social networking and other forms of communication, e-mail continues to show steady growth, as all IM, social networks and other services require users to have an e-mail address to access their services. In addition, all online transactions … require a valid e-mail address,” The Radicati Group noted.

The number of business e-mails sent and received daily worldwide is expected to grow by 3 percent annually from 2016 through 2019. Consumer e-mails sent and received daily should increase by 6 percent annually, the report stated.

“I think written communication is going through a very interesting change, similarly to the ’90s when e-mail became the de facto standard of business communication,” Ruukel said. “We are currently living [in] times when e-mail will be mainly replaced by messengers. It is still very early days but [the] shift has started.”

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance journalist and writer based in Philadelphia.

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