Gartner Blog Network

No Email or More Social?

by Jeffrey Mann  |  August 16, 2012  |  4 Comments

Friend or Foe?” cries the clichéd sentinel on a foggy castle keep. With email, it seems no one knows how to answer that question. MP900401860[1]Without email, I could not live the way I choose to or do my work the way I like to do. Unquestionably, email has made my life better.

But like most good things, it goes kind of sour when it hangs around too long. It starts out as your friend, but after a while resentment and antipathy set in. How did I let this thing run my life? Why does it suck so much time? When can I get away from it? Like helping someone in a dysfunctional relationship, it’s time for an intervention. Email needs a stern talking to. Get back where you belong! Leave me alone! Like an intervention, the nature of email also evokes lots of emotion.

When talking about social software adoption with clients, I often end up talking about doing less email, or even eliminating it entirely. This doesn’t feel right, however. It’s hard to drive adoption of something by telling people to stop doing something else. It’s like being on a sinking boat and concentrating on lowering the level of the ocean. We need to stop the leaks and get the water out of the boat. Social techniques can help us do that, so we need more social.

By promoting tools attuned to the work we are doing that involve colleagues at the right time with less friction, we won’t need to resort to email as much. Email usage will go down as a result of good collaboration practices. Attacking email itself as inefficient could be correct, but ultimately is distracting. Asking a colleague to use a wiki because everyone can edit it and see each other’s changes is more convincing than extolling the evils of emailing copies of a Word file around. Maybe I am just a positive person, but focusing on benefits of the new approach rather than the problems of the old one is more appealing to me. I guess I could never go into politics.

If I never had to fire up an email client again, I would not regret it – assuming that everyone who needs to would see my comments, likes, references, comments and questions. Some people or organizations might need to push off of email to get on to social platforms. I suspect that all that pushing and shoving will create as much resentment in the long term as that bossy email client did in the first place.

What do you think? Is email a friend or a foe? Reactions to or even better as a comment here or to @jeffmann

Additional Resources

View Free, Relevant Gartner Research

Gartner's research helps you cut through the complexity and deliver the knowledge you need to make the right decisions quickly, and with confidence.

Read Free Gartner Research

Category: email  hype-cycle  personal  social-media  social-software  

Tags: no-email  social-software  

Jeffrey Mann
Research VP
20 years with Gartner and META Group
30 years IT industry

Jeffrey Mann is a Research VP at Gartner, covering cloud office, collaboration and social software.

Thoughts on No Email or More Social?

  1. Christopher Herrmann says:

    Dear Jeff,
    Thank you for this post! No, you’re not just a positive person 🙂
    “focusing on benefits of the new approach rather than the problems of the old one is more appealing to me” is Appreciative Inquiry (AI) by another name.

    I think email, like any technology, is a good servant but a bad master.

    It would appear that email has become the standard communications tool; however this has its downsides.

    In my organisation we have been increasing our use of a variety of communication/collaboration technologies such as Document Management Systems (DMS), Instant Messaging (IM) and even Micro-Blogging. This experience has been enlightening in determining what works best for a particular situation.

    Some people live and breathe in Outlook; others live and breathe in a network drive or Online. “It depends” is the answer to your question, I think!

    Thanks again,

  2. Simon Smith says:

    Jeff, it’s probably a reasonable assumption that your clients have a long established all-in email set-up. It’s not easy to go no-email in these situations is it? I could request that my corporate email address is terminated, or declare that I’ll never read it anymore, however I’d be placing a burden on my co-workers and business partners to communicate with me in ways that increase (time) cost for them. That’s not my style.

    I’m wondering what we can learn from start-ups (be they plumbers, bakers, maids or gardeners; or tech start-ups) where they leap-frog the email world and embrace social-only. Are there genuine attempts at this yet?

    Or what teenagers can teach us? My son avoided email until “forced” to enter our email world by his University and the companies offering Internships.

    One of our team retired recently and offered this advice to his colleagues: always delete cc mail (it wasn’t written to you) and if someone sends you an action in email ignore it until the second or third reminder. Don’t hesitate to delete email to you – if challenged say you can’t find it, and the sender will always be happy to resend it to you. Mind you, he wasn’t very accepting of instant messaging, or anything social-platform either, yet had a successful career and many friends.

  3. Jeff Mann says:

    @simon there are some who have or are committed to cutting the email cord. Luis Suarez of IBM has done it for years. Atos is committed to dropping internal email usage. It’s not easy though.

  4. […] haven’t caught up with the times. For me, and apparently plenty of other folk (Link, Link, Link, Link …), the idea of working out of your email inbox is just plain crazy. Podio is one of a […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.