Email is the de facto standard tool when it comes to collaborating with colleagues, customers, partners etc. It is simple, available to everyone on all platforms/devices, and yields itself very easily to any kind of use. Writing an email and searching and browsing through email inboxes is now effortless, thanks to great email clients and services available today.
Without even realizing it, we use email for collaboration all the time. When we assign tasks to colleagues over email, report on them or work together on files together by sharing them as attachments, what we're essentially doing is collaborating.
This of course comes with its own set of problem. Try collaborating like this with a large group over a large period of time, and you'd very soon have people complaining about too much email, cluttered inboxes and information getting lost and never being found. These are very critical problems which if left unsolved can lead to a lot of inefficiencies.
And that has led to the birth of tonnes of collaboration tools which wrap email like messaging into a system that brings everyone to a central place. While collaboration tools do solve a lot of inefficiencies that come with working with email, getting people to adopt a new system which they use to collaborate, and still having to go back to their email for a lot of things means many teams fail to adopt collaboration tools.
We would like to take a step back here and analyze if there is really a lot of sense to introducing collaboration tools to a teams that are already used to email, or does email along with some improvements and enhancements can continue to be the killer app for businesses.
What are the problems with email as a collaboration tool
No "Signaling": Email lacks ways to assign tasks, track status and know quickly who is doing what. All one can do is write about these things, and that can get very messy.
Inbox clutter: A lot of people who receive an email because they were part of a large CC list have no immediate use for the email, and the reason the sender chose to include them was because she wanted to make sure ‘everyone was in the loop’. This causes tonnes of email clutter.
Inboxes are silos: There’s tonnes of useful stuff in inboxes that is not visible to others. That always leads to mad scrambles to “send me that file” or “forward to me that email”.
These are big problems. But the question is, is it absolutely necessary that we deploy a completely new class of tools which people are totally unfamiliar with to solve these problems, or solve these in the framework of email.
What Email needs to keep ruling
Signaling: What if when I sent an email to a colleague about a project or a customer, it could be filed automatically with a corresponding label, or in a corresponding folder. When I assign a task to someone, it again gets filed under a folder called “My Tasks”. (This is enabled with our product GrexIt - GrexIt enables email collaboration by letting you share Gmail labels)
A Cure for Clutter: Really, why should you have to CC 25 people on an email if you want just 3 of them to read it right away. Why can’t you file it somewhere without cluttering the inboxes of those 23 people, from where they can find it later if they need it.
Cross Inbox Discovery: What if I could go beyond my personal inbox to find information that is relevant to me. (This functionality is again available through GrexIt's shared email repository)
What most collaboration tools do today is solve the problems we have with email by introducing a completely new tool. But whats better?
We strongly feel that email with some useful add-ons can go a very long way as a collaboration tool by letting people collaborate in an environment that is very simple, which they know how to use, and are very comfortable with. There would definitely be scenarios where dedicated collaboration tools would be required because of the nature of what needs to be accomplished, but email can deliver as a collaboration tool for a very large proportion of knowledge workers.
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About the author:
Niraj is the Founder of GrexIt. GrexIt turns Gmail into a powerful collaboration tool by letting you share your Gmail labels. When not working at GrexIt on programming or customer support, Niraj likes to play guitar.
Niraj can be reached on Twitter at nirajr.