When Raymond Tomlinson pressed send on the first email back in 1971, the world would never be the same. Flash-forward to 1985, email was mostly used by college professors, students, and the government. And then, BAM! It spread like lightning. Over the years, everyone became dependent on email. In fact, 2012 saw the planet surpass 3 billion email accounts. Over 290 billion emails go out each day. From home to work, it’s woven into the fabric of our lives. In fact, it’s become second nature to the point that we rarely stop to think about what it’s good for. Its strengths. Its weaknesses. Its intention. 

Email…what is it good for?

Absolutely nothing? We know that’s not true. It’s easy to use. It replaces in-person meetings and phone calls and in most cases snail mail. Most companies rely heavily on the stream of communications email facilitates for little cost. Email makes it easy to send messages to anyone in the world at any time. Coworkers and business partners can reply and send information on their own time, as their schedule permits. And for the most part, this is a good thing. But as technology has advanced, the need for immediate response has increased. Just look at how many people do business from their cell phones, tablets, and laptops. At the end of 2011, over six billion people were using cell phones, according to the U.N. telecom agency—that’s almost 86 out of every 100 people.

While email is great for announcements and relating small bits of information that don’t warrant an immediate response, it’s actually terrible for realtime communications and collaboration. It’s probably safe to say email is semi-instant at best.

Fragmentation, loss of meaning, and duplication

Emails tend to scatter information. One is sent with a project announcement. Another is sent with project meeting dates. Another is sent with project instructions. Another with project deliverables. Another with files attached. And more still for reviewing materials and the changes that need to be made. Now the workforce is left to patch together all of these email threads to decipher the content and context over the period of the project—some of which last months or years.

And then, there’s the problem of duplication and uncontrollable versions. When changes are made to files, people create new versions. And collaborators are left scratching their heads as to which version is the most current.

Wouldn’t it make much more sense to have all of your communications and files in one place, with complete context around your content?

Being spent from email

There’s something called email bankruptcy (aka email fatigue) most people experience, especially at work. It’s when you begin to ignore emails after having slipped behind on opening and responding to the ones that have piled up. Why does this happen? Well, as it stands, over half of the US workforce feels overwhelmed by all the information they have to deal with everyday, according to the 2013 SEIL report. Maybe employees are beginning to get the sense that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to read and respond to every email. Sometimes it can take days or weeks for someone to respond to your email. And that’s how things get missed. Important documents are sandwiched between unread emails. Company and team announcements are brushed off. And important meetings are missed. This is bad for business and terrible for productivity. 

A smarter way to work together

As the title says, email really means, “this can wait”. Unless a critical time frame is specified or an email is sent with high priority, responses are likely delayed or never sent at all if the email is never opened. So what works better than email for realtime communications and collaboration? How can we keep our unread emails down to zero, so we don’t miss a thing?

Recognizing that email has its weaknesses is a start. The real answer lies in your team using a system with zero confusion, zero communication breakdowns, zero missed deadlines, and zero time wasted. For this, all signs point to content collaboration software, hosted in the cloud.

This blog is part of a series that illustrates the Power of Zero. Watch this space for upcoming articles on the incredible power zero can have on your organization.

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