The death of email – imminent or greatly exaggerated?

by Nathan Bazley
Published on July 19, 2022

How will email evolve over the next 5-10 years?

Most of us have a love (tolerate)/hate relationship with emails. They certainly have achieved a lot over their long history (.. longer than the internet itself), mostly because they operate on an open, stable protocol for amazing compatibility. An email from two decades ago still works in much the same way as it does today.

That also means they haven’t improved much either…

So what are the biggest email problems we see within large organizations?

1. Formality and inefficiency

Email etiquette forces us to communicate more formally than is often necessary, increasing the chance of being misunderstood, or writing more than necessary to be understood. Email format also encourages us to type several extra sentences in salutation every time we write to someone, for fear of looking like an abrupt monster otherwise. That, plus the inevitable indecision about the best way to sign off when addressing different recipients, and you have many, many hours wasted every year.

2. Multiple issues with multimedia

Emails were not designed with imagery or video in mind. Most of the time, attachments work, but anything more than that is a formatting nightmare. And that’s before you factor in the restrictive size limits!

3. Information silos

An email was really designed as a 1:1 or 1:a style of communication. Any more than that and you know the RE: all nightmares that can unfold! But limiting who’s addressed also means information that might not necessarily need to be private stays siloed and only accessible to those CC’d. That lack of visibility means the same conversations could happen multiple times, within multiple threads, without anyone realizing. Then, once an employee leaves an organization, all of that intellectual property they crafted within emails usually disappears into the ether, never to be leveraged again. Can you imagine any other type of enterprise output that would be happily deleted upon completion?

4. Email onslaught

This is the biggest one. Emails aren’t particularly easy to scan, prioritize, and action. And the more we get (now from more sources than ever), the more difficult that task becomes. I know someone who found himself doing a store tour with the CEO of a large Australian organization. One of this CEO’s scheduled all-staff emails went out just as he walked past his employees on their terminals. He had the unfortunate opportunity to watch in real-time as more than one hit delete without even opening it.

Awkward.

Emails – legacy communication, but…

Now clearly, email still serves a purpose today despite the above issues. So why do we expect it to be (all but) relieved of duty in the future?

Well, the biggest change we see coming as productivity moves towards metaverse-style experiences is transitioning from 2D-native information to 3D-native. This will allow us to have information placed around and live within our spaces, rather than being restricted to flat rectangles perched on desks or in our hands in front of us.

Considering that, wouldn’t it be great if our primary communication tool had a bit more flexibility than email does now?

That is just one of the reasons why we often say Workplace is the “metaverse-ready asynchronous communication tool.” Providing rapid communications across larger, more organized groups in a more visible and easily searchable way means greater value and efficiency for the business as a whole.

It will also be far easier to translate these newer, media-rich communications to new immersive spaces where we aren’t restricted as much by the medium. And we expect a “professional” tone to continue to become more relaxed and accessible in the future, too. The big question is how long will we persist with maintaining email just to communicate between orgs? 

LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) is taking a small chunk of this type of interaction already, but in addition, I’d predict messaging platforms will get better at translating between the various proprietary systems, bridging the gap and bringing email’s amazing run to an eventual close.

The best tools for the job today

With all this in mind, generally, we recommend the following as replacement platforms here and now, because they work best for us and we know they will also transition best as we begin to work differently in the future:

  • Email, messaging, intranet -> Workplace
  • Task management, notes, record keeping -> Asana
  • Video conferencing -> this is the kind of communication we think will translate most directly to the metaverse over the coming years. (It is also the future work experience Reality Labs is building…)

This leaves one area of communication left – org to org emails, which are naturally more formal and can’t easily be replaced by any of the above.

(Professionally at least – how long we’ll continue getting personal email sale notices spamming us remains to be seen!)

P.S I just want to contradict the preceding slightly to say that while I don’t think they’ll exist forever, I will always have a strange love and respect for an incredibly well-crafted, well-formatted work email.

Original article on LinkedIn.

Meet the Author
Nathan Bazley
Nathan’s at the helm of Enablo Reality Labs, guiding the team on our mission to help build the future of work. He has many years of experience in the immersive technology space, leading the development of several AR and VR apps, establishing the first XR team within the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and advising a number of businesses on XR strategy and Virtual Production technology.

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