Strong communication lies at the heart of any successful business and for most firms email is a tool that they just cannot live without. From humble beginnings, with the first message being sent back in 1971, there are now a staggering 2.4 million emails sent every second.
But when it comes to issues of productivity, collaboration and getting teams working closely together to provide the strongest possible customer experience, email may not be the best choice.
Harvard Business Review explores this issue brilliantly in their article ‘A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email’, explaining that while email may be easier and more convenient in the moment, it breeds an unstructured approach. The use of emails actually changing the way employees work and potentially ‘enslaving’ them to their inboxes.
One of the other common traps that teams can fall into with email is to use their inbox as their ‘to do’ list, which can prove hugely inefficient. There is also the danger that working patterns shift to being reactive and driven by the emails that are coming in, rather than being strategic and focused on the bigger picture. Not to mention the difficulties email can cause for concentration and productivity.
For some organisations, the idea of eliminating email use completely for internal communications has become a reality. Technology giant Atos is one such firm that has famously taken steps in this direction. They launched a zero email initiative back in 2011 after finding 73 per cent of employees were spending more than one quarter of their time managing email, and 82 per cent said they had trouble keeping on top of it. Since then many others have followed in their footsteps (to varying degrees).
But what are the alternatives? And what else do you need to think about when it comes to pulling the plug on in-house emails?
Internal communications is an umbrella term that covers a broad range of activities. It’s important when exploring other options to recognise that different types of communication will have different objectives and may require very different tools.
For example, you need to distinguish between communication that relates to the following:
- individual tasks
- individual projects
- individual clients
- public within specific teams
- company wide
- open to clients
Luckily there are now many innovative tools available that can help teams manage their communication, from aiding collaboration and cross-team working, to providing a central filing system in the cloud and offering multiple options to collate and share data. And without an email in sight! Here is a rundown of some of the top tools and what they can offer:
Evernote – Very popular amongst managers, Evernote is a cross-platform app that can provide a range of functions, from acting like a digital filing cabinet, to being a note-taking tool, daily journal, and task or project management system. The beauty of Evernote is that it syncs automatically across all your devices and operating systems.
Some key functions include:
- The ability to share notes with others.
- The ability to take and attach pictures to a note from within the app.
- The ability to take and attach voice memos.
- The ability to attach files (spreadsheets, images, docs) to any note.
- It even has the ability to scan text in a photo using Optical Character Recognition technology.
Working in the cloud
At their most basic level, online filing systems provide a way for teams to store and access data centrally, and from anywhere which has an internet connection. Folders can even be shared with external contacts if you wish. Different tools will vary in price (often being free up to a certain point then requiring payment for more space) and in the functions they offer. Here are some of the most popular tools that are worth taking a look at: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, SpiderOak and SugarSync.
If you’re already working in the cloud then make sure you check out the communication tools that may already be built in, so you’re not missing out on anything.
Project & task management
If you’re juggling a number of tasks or projects, especially if you’re working together with other colleagues, then project management software offers a simple solution to help you keep organized. You can do everything from delegating tasks, to setting deadlines, and uploading information and research.
These types of tools are fantastic for collaboration and ensuring nothing is ever lost in an email trail somewhere. They can also chart the development of a project from start to finish, including all discussion and comments, which can help if you’re ever called on to review and analyse your progress.
RoboHead - specifically designed for marketing and creative users and the type of high volume, fast turn projects that they manage every day. With real-time information, everyone (including clients) can know where things are and who is working on what.
Teamwork - is all about getting things done by creating tasks and task lists, and then assigning them to the team. It increases visibility across each project as well as aligning every dependent function within the business. It has a HubSpot integration and easy to use design.
Basecamp - one of the first tools of this nature to be launched but it does have its limitations. Basecamp is a private, secure space online where people working together can organize and discuss everything needed to get a project done. Tasks, discussions, deadlines, and files - everything’s predictably organized.
Wunderlist - Wunderlist for Business makes it easy to manage all your team’s projects with centralized communication and unlimited use of collaboration features. Simple and easy to use, the shared lists let you manage your team’s projects and give everyone in your team a clear overview of who’s responsible for every to-do.
Trello - loved for its simple, visual design, Trello lets you create ‘boards’ and drag and drop items. You can see everything about your project just by glancing at the board, and it all updates in real-time. There’s nothing to set up and everyone gets it instantly.
Redbooth – easy-to-use online project management software designed for creating high-performing teams. With Redbooth everything is in one place, you can manage tasks and files, chat with your team, hold HD video calls, view Gantt charts and productivity reports, all in one place.
dapulse – this tool takes a highly visual approach. It offers a place to centralize all communication and keep everyone engaged and focused on what matters. It shows who's responsible for what and gives people recognition and accountability for their work.
Asana – created by one of the cofounders of Facebook, Asana claims to be ‘the easiest way for teams to track their work’ and get results. From tasks and projects to conversations and notifications, Asana enables teams to move work from start to finish. It’s simple to get started, powerful enough to run your entire business and free.
The ability to talk to each other, no matter where in the world you are, has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. If you can’t get in a room together, then these communication solutions could be for you:
Slack – if you only check out one tool, make it Slack. It’s an online instant messaging and collaboration solution, but its ability for integration is what makes it extra special. It enables you to centralize all your notifications, from sales to tech support, social media and more, into one searchable place where your team can discuss and take action.
Skype – one of the most popular tools available for online meetings, messaging, calls and video. With Skype for Business you can simplify your infrastructure with one platform for calling, conferencing, video, and sharing.
Google Hangouts - allows members to initiate and participate in text, voice or video chats, either one-on-one or in a group. Hangouts are built into Google+ and Gmail, and mobile Hangouts apps are available for iOS and Android devices.
Tango - a free app that in addition to video calls is also optimized for voice calls, texting, photo sharing and playing games. It is primarily geared towards Android devices but the app is also compatible with iOS, Windows Phone, and PCs.
HipChat - with HipChat you can do group calls, send and preview images, and you’ll also get an email notification about messages you’ve received while being offline so you’ll never miss important news. One huge benefit is the many helpful integrations.
Campfire – similar to instant messaging, but designed exclusively for groups. Share text, files, and code in real time. Save transcripts so you don’t forget anything.
Yammer - a private social network that helps employees collaborate across departments, locations, and business apps.
Company to employees
Communicating effectively with employees is something most businesses spend a lot of time and effort trying to get right. Historically it would have relied on the core comms channels of email, intranet, face-to-face and increasingly social media. But now there’s a new kid on the block. SnapComms is an employee communications software solution that allows organizations to communicate more effectively with their employees. In terms of cost, ease of use and, most importantly, large audience ‘message cut-through’ (ensuring important messages get noticed by employees), this tool is very effective with guaranteed delivery, readership and measurability.
When it comes to company/employee communication, don’t forget about the trusted old newsletter. There’s something about having a physical piece of paper in your hand that no technology will ever be able to beat (if it’s done well of course).
Other things to think about…
Avoid changing systems too often. Try to anticipate what you will need in the future, ideally planning two years ahead, and then find the best fit for you.
Remember training is always going to be important with any new technology, especially when you need full team buy-in and a commitment to following a new process. You will also need to consider any security concerns. The level of security you need is likely to depend on the size and type of business you’re in.
Finally, the success of your new internal comms tools – in fact any new tool you introduce - will always come down to communication! Have a plan and consider running a small scale trial to gather in feedback and learnings. Think how best to get the message out there to the full team and what the best way to integrate and move over to any new system is likely to be. Managers will play a big part in this and need to fully understand what’s happening and to actively support their teams.
So while ditching email may at first glance seem like an impossible task, what these technologies all prove is that there is another way – you just need to take the plunge.