Earlier this week, Simon asked whether email’s reign was coming to an end, and I recently mentioned sending less email as one of my 11 tips to reduce email overload, so I thought it would be fun to think about a few ways that we can replace email with other, more suitable tools.
- Instant messaging. This is the obvious alternative to email; it’s a great way to get a quick answer or ping a colleague with some important information. The downside to instant messaging is that it interrupts the person you want to speak with, and it’s only useful if your colleague is online and logged in at the same time as you.
- Text messaging (SMS). For those times when you need to urgently communicate with someone who isn’t currently online, text messaging is a good alternative to instant messaging. It’s immediate and tends to get people’s attention, but it can be really annoying if overused.
- Group chats. A group chat or IRC channel is a great place to find answers to questions, especially for those topics where you’re not sure who’s best-placed to provide you with an answer. Group chats can also be a nice way to replace the water cooler as a way for remote team members to have informal conversations and keep up with the latest news in the office.
- Collaboration tools. If you work at a big company, you may have access to a collaboration suite like SharePoint, where you can work together on documents or hold online discussions. If you don’t have a full collaboration suite, you can always pull something together with a wiki, Dropbox or other tools that accomplish similar goals. Getting documents and discussions out of email can really help you better manage your time. For those critical bits of information, you can always IM someone a link if you need a response right away.
- Internal blogs. Company blogs are a great way to communicate information with a wide audience without clogging up everyone’s inbox. It also avoids those long email threads where a couple of people with strong opinions reply to the original email, start a heated debate and end up annoying the rest of the people who just wanted the initial information. Moving this type of discussion to blog comments gives people the option of continuing the conversation or moving on to the next blog post.
- Social networks. I don’t think social networking tools, like Yammer and Chatter , will replace business email, but they do provide a great way to reduce the amount of social conversations in email. For example, you can share your latest photos of that event or the conference you attended on a social network instead of sending them around in email.
- Talking. This really is going old school, but you can still walk over to someone’s office or pick up the phone and have a (gasp!) real conversation using vocal cord technology. For those tricky issues where you’re not quite getting the point across, taking the time to talk to someone can make a huge difference. Last week, I exchanged almost a dozen emails in a long argument with someone before finally tracking her down in person to find out that we were arguing the same point and were actually in agreement.
- Video conferencing. Many people claim they are planning on using more video. Call me a skeptic or an old fogey, but I think people like the idea of using video to collaborate more than people like the reality of using video. Do you always want someone to see you (which means you have to change out of your pajamas for that call), and does video really make the conversation that much better?
Despite my frequent hatred of email in general, I often use it to send information or get feedback from people in different time zones. While I like to replace email where it makes sense and reduce my email load, there really are times when email is the best tool for the job.