Wait! What? Have chat apps replaced email?

As I was diligently working away last week, I realized that I had not yet sent or replied to an email on that particular day, and it was already noon. This reminded me of a time I hosted a couple of cracked ribs, thanks to my rather high-strung date, who decided to line drive a hard ball into my ribs. The thing is, my ribs hurt, and breathing was difficult, until the moment when I realized that I was no longer experiencing any pain. And I wondered, when did the pain stop? Email is like that pain. When the injury heals and the pain disappears, it is only very slowly that we realize the pain has left us. Is this what is happening? Have chat apps given us an avenue to disengage from the unproductive time consumed by email?

It was almost one year ago when I posted an article titled, New kids vs. old reliable: Can chat apps replace email? Much has happened since November 2019. The most impactful being the COVID-19 imposed work-from-home (WFH) initiative embraced by pretty much every organization on the planet. We all were, and still are, very much concerned about staying healthy. We have hunkered down in our home offices for what we thought would be a temporary inconvenience. We took up a spot at our kitchen island, our dining room table, propped up with pillows in our bed, and for a couple of glorious months, outside in the backyard. We all committed to lowering our risk and self-isolating as much as possible.

But here’s the thing about risk. When risk is realized, it becomes an issue, and we find a way to adjust our plans in order to deal with the issue at hand. And sometimes, as we work through the issue, a positive outcome results that we did not expect. I do believe that is how penicillin was discovered. In fact, there is a long list of amazing inventions and discoveries that were made because of risks that were realized.

Because we were forced into remote work, the need for remote collaboration was high. Did this terrible issue give us the nudge we needed to collaborate versus dictate? Let’s revisit my article from November 2019 and see if anything has changed.

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Does email still serve a purpose?

In that article from November, I argued that email is still effective as a communication medium. However, it is void of any form of collaboration and lacks any real-time communication capability. Let’s face it, email is a monologue, not dialogue. And without dialogue, remote work can fail to meet corporate objectives, and we may not even realize it until it is too late.

Successful organizations quickly learned that under the new WFH regime, collaboration is key. The lack of effectiveness of email was quickly understood to be a detriment to the new work environment. Once we understand how to fully utilize the functionality of chat apps such as Teams, Zoom, and Slack, email may, in fact, no longer serve a purpose. I would like to remind our readers that I did indeed predict the end of email. OK, maybe I didn’t exactly predict it, but I did make it publicly clear that email is a very expensive time-waster. I am very excited that some of you are starting to agree!

Which chat apps are meeting the needs of the enterprise?

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Last year, the cool chat apps were Slack, Microsoft Teams, and WhatsApp. They all had great functionality within specific user groups, but there was still a dependency on email. The conclusion then was that leadership really should begin to enforce the use of specific communication tools that would support and align with the corporate strategy. After all, IT departments have long determined the applications that will be supported and maintained. Any apps that do not fall within the parameters of the IT strategy are deemed not acceptable to load onto one’s enterprise-owned PC. Foolishly, we thought that there would be a natural evolution and we would control the direction, which we assumed would be driven by the need to reduce overhead and increase revenue. Under the current WFH conditions, chat apps, and more specifically, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, have been adopted as the communication and collaboration tools of choice. The old school method of clicking the “read receipt” button and holding the unsuspecting recipient accountable no longer holds water in the new world. More importantly, there is no business case that shows a positive return on investment by clicking “read receipt.” Put another way, with organizations dependent on employees who mostly work remotely from the office, communication and collaboration are of the utmost importance.

Is collaboration the new corporate penicillin?

It wasn’t by accident that we realized the need to utilize a tool more collaborative than email. It was, however, by accident that we realized a shift from the monologue of email to the collaborative use of chat apps. During the past six months, we have engaged in this shift because of all things, we actually want to be productive, and we want to contribute to the success of our respective organizations. It appears that we have embraced this new way of working. Like the cracked ribs that made me realize I needed to date someone different, our need to succeed in business and contribute to the success of the enterprise just needed the right issue to present itself.

So, it would appear that the functionality that initially caused our dependency on email has indeed been incorporated into the chat apps of today. Even considering the lack of an organized change management plan, somehow, the shift caused by the WFH initiative has managed to rewire our brains. For those organizations that embrace strategic business change and understand the importance of change management, there is considerable opportunity to increase productivity by enforcing certain functionality offered by this paradigm shift. However, for those who are unable to enforce change through best practices, the days of sifting through email messages late at night will probably be around for a while yet.

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