Article: The rise of workplace chat: Is this end of email?

Technology

The rise of workplace chat: Is this end of email?

There are around 4 billion users of the emails. Would they make the change to workplace chat?
The rise of workplace chat: Is this end of email?

If you or your organization is using any workplace collaboration tool like Slack, Asana, Trello or Basecamp including any other you have been using a parallel system to the ubiquitous email system which has taken over the world of business over the last 30+ years. The email system which is literally modeled on a physical mail system that existed prior has grown tremendously and has practically replaced the manual old system. 

Trivia Fact: The Email was invented by an Indian American Dr. Shiva Ayaadurai when he was asked to digitize the office mail system. See this video for more details.

It is estimated that there are about 4 billion users of email in the world today. The first Microsoft outlook came in 1992 while Hotmail happened in 1996, Yahoo followed suit in 1997, Gmail came into existence in 2007. Just at the start of the year 2000, the total users of email were estimated to be 400 million while today they are more than 4 billion worldwide. That’s about 53% of the world population which has access to email now. 

On the other hand, Slack which was launched in 2013 as a workplace collaboration tool has seen its user base grow to 2.7 million in just 3 years. With its impressive growth many other players have started to come into this space and hence the boundaries are starting to blur. 

The latest launch of FB Workplace and Microsoft Teams have given further impetus to the dialogue of death of email. While whether all organizations across the globe will eventually transition to one or the other work collaboration tool remains to be seen, certainly the potential of 4 billion people worldwide is a tremendous opportunity. 

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So what really are workplace collaboration softwares?

These applications help individuals and groups collaborate and work together in a much more easier manner than what happens today. 

Consider a typical situation, you are working on a project along with 3 other people from different departments who may or may not be in the same office location or country. You need to discuss, create plans, make documents, review them, and finally store this information in a common repository. While doing this currently you may use your own computer and store multiple versions of the file/s & share the work done, meeting invites agendas via email. You would have conversations via phone or Skype which may not be captured or recorded & may not be available when you need them. Workplace collaboration software looks to solve this problem thus essentially removing the need to send emails. 

Why are Facebook and Microsoft entering this space?

One can argue this is the most logical step for Microsoft as the world’s largest enterprise software solutions provider. Microsoft is the default software used by many organizations across the world for creating and distributing business documents. So if people are going to move away from MS Outlook to something else, it better be a Microsoft product as many other parts of the workplace collaboration might still remain in Microsoft, for example – creating a word, Excel, PPT documents. 

Microsoft already has Sharepoint applications which have been used by organizations for workplace collaboration and the addition of MS Teams to the MS Office 265 suite just ensures that all enhanced capabilities and features demanded by the business users are available to them right within their MS Office 365 environment. With features like pointing out the specific content within a particular channel to the user and polling tool and searchable memes and GIF’s Microsoft Teams hopes to create a much more engaging work experience for its users. 

Facebook has created a workplace collaboration tool that looks just like FB interface. Since FB is used by an almost quarter of the world, FB can hope to have a greater user adoption of this platform in the workplace. The main features of the FB workplace are its FB like the interface and its cost being about 50% of that of what Slack currently charges. With an extremely simple setup procedure, FB hopes to get this tool in more and more hands quickly.  A relatively new feature, Facebook live is also present in FB workplace and it could facilitate live Q&A sessions, something that Slack does not have today. They are also using the freemium approach where the application is free until September 2017. In no time FB has already gone close to 500 thousand users including some large corporate accounts. 

What’s round the corner?

Most enterprise users already are using elements of this workplace collaboration if you have used Yammer, Cisco Webex, Email, IBM Verse or any other such tool for a specific purpose. What these collaboration tools are looking to do is now to consolidate all of that under one roof and then add the power of AI and NLP to it via bots. 

IBM and Cisco have already announced that they are going to work on this together and create a solution which brings the current offering from these 2 companies together to boost the workflow. Google recently discontinued its Spaces app that allowed users to organize conversations around specific topics, signaling the end of an experiment by the company and may be the start of another. 

Why would you make the change? 

For the same reasons, we all moved away from paper-based mail to electronic mail, convenience. Having all your communication about a particular project at one place is a great advantage. If you are working on multiple projects it helps you view and retrieve information effectively. Does it take away the need for you to be organized and creating multiple folders? Not really as you would either be invited into such project groups created by others in the team or you would create them yourself.

The workplace collaboration tools would also make the whole interaction a bit more human, with your ability to add emojis and another such GIF’s the conversations can be fun. This is yet another example of the blurring of boundaries between work life and personal life. You would essentially start using workplace technology the same way you do it in your personal time. 

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Topics: Technology, Employee Relations

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