Since email first exploded in popularity in the 1990's, the way we communicate in the office has changed vastly.
Today, it has become the mainstream form of communication in the workplace. However, when employees are inundated with hundreds of inbox notifications each day, the medium can seem more cumbersome than helpful. As a result, it has becoming increasingly important for companies to figure out what communication tools are best suited for professional interactions.
According to Alexandra Samuels, the author of Work Smarter With Social Media, email is ineffective because it's rooted in old-fashioned expectations about communication. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, she points out that people typically write emails as they would a letter--with the expectation that the person reading it will reply instantly upon receiving. The issue, she explains, is that most email messages don't necessarily warrant an immediate response.
"When we're working with other people, we are exchanging quick, short messages in pursuit of timely responses," Samuels writes. Given that context, she argues that email can actually be a slow and burdensome form of conversation.
Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield has cited his frustration with the cumbersomeness of email as the inspiration behind the team messaging app. "When I open my email, it's a giant casserole of email from family, friends, people we work with outside our organization. It's garbled," he said in an interview with The Verge.
Samuels discovered that the best way to cut down on the number of emails she sends on a daily basis is to use more apps to communicate with colleagues. She makes sure each app is only used for a certain task or two. In doing so, Samuels is able to prevent casual conversations from distracting her from more important tasks.
She uses Google Drive or Dropbox, for instance, to edit documents of drafts. Slack is most useful when brainstorming with her colleagues. When in need of a short, immediate reply to a single question, Samuels will send a text message via her mobile phone.
Although she acknowledges that using more apps does make it hard to keep track of past conversations, Samuels says she's found herself less distracted and more productive.
"I was able to refocus on the tasks that are genuinely essential to professional success: Writing killer reports; diving deep into data...and actually rehearsing my presentations, so I could rock the house," she said. More impressively, Samuels has been able to cut in half the average number of emails she sends per month.