Can the battle for business collaboration finally kill off email?


Laura Haight

Can email survive?

That seems kind of a stupid question when you consider the prediction that 246 billion emails will be sent every day by the end of this year. And that number represents a 3% increase over last year – a growth rate that’s been holding steady for a decade.

Nonetheless, everyone – and I don’t think I’m overstating here – hates email. For the average person, email is a necessary evil. But for business, email is time-sucking, loss-leading, and productivity-wasting. Although spam is considerably reduced for businesses thanks to better filtering through firewalls and additional services, it still represents 20% of all emails that get through. And then, of course, there are the very real cybersecurity concerns of phishing, whaling, and malware getting through and infecting systems, exposing a business to ransomware or data breaches.

In the 25 or so years that most of us have had email, very little has changed – especially when you consider the tectonic changes that have evolved in many other technologies.

This week, Slack, the communications/productivity tool for workplaces and teams, went public. And its stock (NYSE: WORK) soared nearly 50% on the first day. That put Slack in the news – with both positive and negative reports. But it did make me wonder if this – or any other collaborative tool – could take email down.

After all, so much of email for work consists of things we used to F2F with our colleagues: lunch orders, after-work plans, scheduling meetings, discussing business plans/ideas. I don’t think I’ll find a stat on this, but I’d be willing to guess that at least 10% of our work emails consist of one word – ”Thanks” or “OK.”

Instant messaging and chat apps duplicated these functions a decade ago, and over the past several years they’ve evolved to be platform-agnostic and mobile.

Collaboration apps, including Slack, have done a good job of expanding “chat” to include voice, video, desktop, and document sharing.

But to challenge email applications, these tools have to move beyond chat to creation and CRM. One tool cannot rule them all. After all, we’ve got Office 365 for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; a website; customer relationship applications; social media sites where customers live chat with the support team; data storage; marketing; time and attendance; and way more.

There are a lot of big guns trying to build this tool. In addition to Slack, Microsoft brings Teams, a part of the Office 365 Suite, and Facebook bellies up to the bar with Workplace.

Each of these competitors brings something unique to its product: Slack has 1,500-plus integrations with other apps most teams and businesses use, and a single sign-on; Microsoft has the sheer mass of being in pretty much every business in the world already; and Facebook has the experience of creating a vast communication experience and being the largest connector of people on the globe with more than 2.5 billion users.

All of these companies and a bunch of other niche competitors also benefit from the idea that people want to communicate differently. And the move to kick email off its pedestal is not a new one. In 2015, Inc. Magazine predicted email would be obsolete by 2020.

Old habits are hard to break, and some products transcend tech and defy improvement. The return of flip phones and the resilience of Windows XP and its 1.5 billion users are two examples.

Transcending email is going to be a ripping-off-the-bandage process. Consumers may have already done that. My personal email is not full of messages from family and friends; they text me with photos, news, and updates. Most of my email goes directly to the trash in a coffee-fueled morning purge of newsletters, offers, and solicitations. Of 42 personal emails this morning, three escaped the trash and were looked at.

Sometimes businesses lead; but just as often they go where consumers are. Maybe email could be one step closer to obsolescence. Or in 2021, will we still be ringing the death knell for email?


Related Articles