If you’ve been keeping up with technology recently, you know that even five-year-old tech can often become obsolete. Email hit its 50th birthday in 2021. Perhaps it’s understandable, then, that pundits and tech gurus have been proclaiming that email is dead for nearly two decades. In 2015, John Brandon of Inc. confidently predicted that email would be gone by 2020. In 2009, Millennial blogger Alex Berger of VirtualWayfarer.com explained that pre-Millennial generations embraced email in a different world, but Millennials had moved it to the endangered species list.
Yet email is still alive and kicking. According to Statista, 306.4 billion emails were sent each day in 2020, and that number is expected to rise to 376.4 billion by 2025. The number of active email users worldwide is also expected to increase, from just over 4 billion in 2020 to 4.6 billion in 2025. Email remains the workhorse of electronic communications: not shiny or new, but old and reliable. It’s also a low-bandwidth option for those on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Still, email is no longer the lifeblood of communication in many workplaces. It’s been overrun with spam, advertising and social media alerts, making it tougher than ever to get down to business. With newer, better tools to choose from, many companies are moving email to the back burner. They’re not getting rid of it all together, but making it just one choice among several for office communications. Let’s dive into the problems with email and the newer solutions that are starting to replace it at work.
Why email is falling out of favor
It is true that some rejection of email comes down to simple generational preferences. Gen Z, born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, has begun to enter the workforce. It’s also the first generation to grow up with innumerable options for digital communication, from text messaging to social media. Gen Z workers tend to switch easily between different communication options, and email is not always at the top of their list.
Additional challenges with email include:
- Inefficiency. In an email thread, especially among multiple participants, it’s easy to get lost in the CCs and BCCs, to respond to the wrong person, or completely miss important information.
- Lost time. A typical office worker can get hundreds of emails per day. A handful are important, while the others might be everything from advertising to spam. Sorting through email to find and respond to the relevant pieces takes up time that could be spent on other tasks.
- Lower productivity. An employee checking email is not all that different from a rat pushing a lever for cheese. According to Psychology Today, email notifications provide a hit of dopamine, the brain chemical responsible for pleasure. But they also lead to a state of heightened arousal, which can make it difficult to get much done.
Email replacement options
It is extremely unlikely that email will disappear anytime soon. However, the world is shifting toward remote and hybrid work. According to a 2021 Statista survey, 66% of business leaders are redesigning workspaces to support long-term hybrid teams. In an age when we can’t simply walk down the hall to speak with a coworker face to face, better and more efficient tools for asynchronous communication are essential. These include:
- Text messaging or in-app direct messaging
- Recorded videos, especially those that are five minutes or shorter
- Screenshots with markups
- Collaboration platforms such as Slack
These solutions solve many of email’s flaws by providing better organization and streamlining, cutting through the clutter of spam and ongoing advertisements and providing stronger support for collaboration. On a platform such as Slack, you can customize channels for specific projects or teams, and even create a virtual watercooler for off-topic discussions. And you don’t have to let go of email altogether; you can integrate it right into the platform.
Putting it all together
Email is showing no signs of being on its deathbed, despite nearly two decades of predictions. But business needs are changing, especially as employers work to provide a stronger culture for remote and hybrid teams. Integrating email with newer tools, from text messaging to collaboration platforms, allows you to give workers options while solving some of the challenges that email presents.