Op-Ed: Business vs email — How to win

Posted May 21, 2019 by Paul Wallis
Email is one of the most efficient messaging systems ever invented. The ability or inability to handle it, however, is a bit less than efficient. New options like Slack are sneaking in to the corporate world, and they’re very welcome.
Look familiar? This interface is classic easy to use  and team-specific.
Look familiar? This interface is classic easy to use, and team-specific.
Slack Technologies Inc.
Everyone knows the usual “productivity” issues with email. It’s constant, it consumes time and thought, and it interferes with whatever else you’re doing. It interferes, mainly because people let it interfere. There are some better options for management now hitting the market to solve that problem.
There’s a high level of unfairness aimed at “email dynamics”, to coin a truly hideous buzz phrase. Anyone who remembers the old paper processes can tell you, with grim enthusiasm, that paper was anything but efficient. The efficiencies built in to paper handling were born of necessity against an equally relentless paper tide. Paper created the science of records management. That’s how bad it was.
With email, the issues are similar, but much amplified by the ability to generate emails automatically and spray them around the world. The problems with real business emails are very similar to spam, in that there’s no real limit to the quantities of email which can be generated.
Before we go any further – This is not yet another futile, pig-ignorant anti-email crusade. Email is just a name for a basic universal messaging system. It was developed from the original “Hello World” messaging system, and not a lot has changed at fundamental levels. Other messaging systems are direct descendants of email and identical, in many ways. Email delivers reliable communications. It can deliver a complete audit chain if it’s used that way, or full documentation where you need full documentation. The idea isn’t to “kill email”, it’s how to get the best performance out of it. Very much to the point - It’s how it’s used which is causing the problems and incredible added costs.
The solution to email saturation levels is based on a few shall we say grotesquely obvious issues:
• Business emails add a lot of volume to the overall messaging load. That adds X amount of extra time to everything any recipient does at work. Even the most ruthless email-deleting person has to check what they’re deleting. The overall value of that time can be measured in dollars, both as time and as diverted productivity.
• Many emails don’t need to be emails at all, cluttering up the landscape. How much basic verbal communication could drastically reduce the compulsively generated business emails? How many people actually need the information in emails? That’s fixable. Everyone has staff meetings, for example. You can simply cover the issues there, providing documentation if it’s actually needed. This is a safer and simpler alternative to the mystic theory that everything must be mindlessly documented. What really needs documenting is defined by statutes, not busy work.
• Message handling can be cumbersome, slow, and dependent on the email rituals. Email IS a good place to put a lot of information, but what about actual high business priorities? Why are you wading through anything and everything to get that information? How do you extract the really important stuff, and get whatever info you need ASAP? Not rhetorical questions. You can actually put a dollar value on these issues in business communications, and that value simply can’t look good. It’s expensive, and affect all business being done because it impacts so many people.
Fast, reliable communication is a very high value asset, because it speeds up the entire process of information distribution and handling. Email has delivered that, whether anyone admits it or not. What’s needed is a new dynamic to offset the email reading marathons and work around the handling issues.
Enter Slack
Slack is messaging system software with some very important differences. It can be used internally for fast communications, with a lot of features and some built-in personal networking. The Slack motto is “Where work happens”, and they’re apparently not kidding.
They have a free trial download, and a free plan, and a certain amount of tongue in cheek selling to businesses. They include two-factor authentication for security, which does reduce the risk of security issues. In short, it’s a good business team communications system. The joke is that businesses NEED their own internal communications systems, Slack does that, but the ancient minds running businesses don’t quite get it. Much ponderous decision making has been obstructing introduction of the system.
Slack calls itself a “collaboration hub”. Think about that expression for nearly a second, and you can see why, and how, Slack quite literally means business. Collaboration now means people around the world working on projects, researching, and, god help them, trying to do business quickly and simply.
Slack is currently focusing on Engineering, IT, Sales, HR, Customer Support (thank god, and not before time) project management, and marketing. If that sounds like a rough description of 90% of every business on Earth, that’s exactly what it is.
You may be wondering where Admin would be in this range of solutions. Short answer – It’s inseparable. The Admin factor is more in the email niche, rather than Slack’s realm of active business dynamics. Slack is your working medium for real time communication, at a healthy remove from the more formal processes.
Check out their Engineering solutions, for example. You can see that these functions are for operational work, rather than documentation. They even have a custom service for beta testing. (That rings true with me. I’m doing some beta testing, and communications could be a lot better.)
Victory, in fact
The key element in Slack is an idea, as much as the working machinery. This local network for business collaborations approach is very much in keeping with the original idea of local networking. The critical idea is to separate the coal face from the factory. Your emails can’t intrude, and you can focus on the collaboration, without having to struggle through a messy inbox.
Importantly, the Slack interface couldn’t possibly be any more straightforward. It’s a dashboard for communicating among teams. That’s a very good idea. Who sent you what, when, and you can access it all instantly.
Another rather healthy point – Slack goes anywhere, on your phone, tablet, whatever. You could probably use in on your smart fridge when the Internet of Things rolls around. So you can always be in touch with the important stuff, despite your technologies. Check it out. This looks good, and I can see a few natural evolutions.