In our popular weekly IT pro newsletter WServerNews, we recently devoted an issue to discussing whether Slack is going to finally bring about the long-awaited death of email as a means of business communication. We raised the subject in Issue #1238 titled “Is email really dead? Or has its use just Slack-ed off a bit?” and in the following week’s issue titled “Reader feedback on Slack vs. email” we shared some thoughtful feedback we received from our readers on this subject. You can find both newsletter issues in our WServerNews archives, and if you aren’t receiving WServerNews each week you can subscribe to it here.
To gain even further insight into the place tools like Slack have in today’s modern workplace and whether email still has some areas that will ensure its continued use by businesses, I recently had a conversation with Kara Longo Korte, the director of product management at TetraVX, a Unified Communications & Collaboration (UCC) company based in Chicago that provides customized solutions based on the unique business drivers, infrastructure, and end-user needs of organizations. Kara has over 15 years of experience in pre-sales, sales enablement, strategy, product management, CRM, and integrations, so I figured she might be an expert who could offer some helpful insights on these questions.
‘Inundated with emails’
I began by asking Kara why some tech industry watchers are saying that Slack and similar solutions are soon going to replace email. “Have you ever heard someone say, ‘I don’t get enough email’? I haven’t,” Kara replied. “We are inundated with emails, and in the workplace, this issue is compounded by a slew of emails we are carbon copied (cc’d) on, ‘Just as an FYI.’ And then there are the group emails that everyone feels compelled to respond to with their own ‘Thanks! Great! Cool! Nice!’ Email tends to be so much more formal, so what was once a quick question now requires a pleasantry (‘Hi! How are you?’), a closing (‘Thanks in advance.’) and full sentences or paragraphs. It takes time to write, and it takes time to read.”
Slack and other similar solutions present quick and easy ways to ask questions or notify a coworker — sans the pleasantries, closings, and formal grammar.
Asked what value Slack provides that email handles poorly, Kara replied “Slack and other similar solutions present quick and easy ways to ask questions or notify a coworker — sans the pleasantries, closings, and formal grammar. It’s perfect for the casual, day-to-day operations that once bogged down our inboxes.” But she agrees that email isn’t going to disappear just because Slack is now around. “There are several reasons for using email,” Kara says, “which means we shouldn’t expect email to be entirely replaced anytime soon. Examples include off-hours, formal, and external communications. If it’s too late in the evening, the receiver might get a chat notification that will disturb them. However, an email, or better yet, a scheduled email, will allow them to answer the request when convenient for them. Email is also considered more official, in part because of the formalities used, and thus is appropriate when the type of communication is more formal.”
Memes — in moderation
Asked for more detail concerning areas where platforms like Slack excel compared with email, Kara replied, “Collaboration solutions make it quick and easy to share information without the need for formalities. Which means efficiencies that an organization would have lacked by simply using email.” But what about the misread tones of communication? “Since the initial launch of video calls, we’ve heard about the challenges that are faced when communication is restricted to text. We lose body and emotional queues that are present in visual conversations which can sometimes lead to misinterpretations or ‘Was that sarcasm?’ feelings. As silly as it may sound, leveraging a platform that appeals to our more familiar ways of communicating allows us to overcome misinterpretations, even if just through the appropriate emoji that makes communication more casual and less intimidating. I mean, who doesn’t love a good meme now and then.” I do — in moderation of course.
I also asked Kara if she could be a bit more specific concerning any areas where Slack and similar products don’t deliver compared to email. She replied “Sometimes people use email as a pure CYA [cover your ass], a way to protect themselves from future penalty or repercussions or to ensure visibility. Though Slack and the like do have persistent chat so users can look through previous chats to share information, it isn’t the same experience as being able to forward or reply to an email to prove’ something. Also, the casual nature of the messaging platforms can sometimes be to a fault,” Kara says. “Contacting a prospect or a contact that you don’t have a relationship with would likely be frowned upon if it was through a messaging platform. The need for such formality continues to necessitate email communication.”
Email, Slack, and more
So what are businesses asking for that UCC companies like TetraVX can provide? “Businesses are looking for Unified Communication & Collaboration (UCC) solutions that can both integrate with best of breed solutions, like Slack, as well as augment the platform with even more communication channels,” Kara says. “We are seeing the market move towards blending traditional contact center and omnichannel capabilities with pure unified communications. When a user needs to facilitate communications across multiple channels, they want a unified experience — they don’t want to have to operate and manage multiple applications.” I agreed that’s a good point and Kara added, “Not to mention, we’ve been so accustomed to the smartphone user experience, where all channels are in one place with one UX, that we expect the same from our workplace communications. This can mean communicating via social channels or text messages. Further, there are basic contact center features that are useful to other parts of the organization (like Sales) that are expanding what is required of a UC or UCC solution.
“It’s an interesting shift that is blurring the lines between siloed solutions and forcing providers to optimize the communication experience across the entire organization,” Kara concluded.
And that’s where IT pros like us mostly work — where the lines are blurred.
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