The teenage son of a colleague of mine once told him, "Email is like writing a letter - who has time for that anymore?" He's not alone in that sentiment. In a report issued by Fast Company last June, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told an "If you want to know what people like us will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today," Sandberg told the audience at Nielsen's Consumer 360 conference yesterday. And according to Sandberg, only 11% of teens email daily--clearly, a huge generational drop. "E-mail--I can't imagine life without it--is probably going away," she said.
Sandberg goes on to discuss how this change positively impacts public social network sites like Facebook, but the decline and eventual demise of email has important ripples that effect the way work gets done, not just how we market and sell to our target audiences. It got me thinking about how people will collaborate at work in the future.
It's true that teenagers have largely abandoned email in favor of SMS text messages and 140 character updates via sites like Facebook and Twitter. These methods of communication are faster, easier, and through their integration with mobile phones, are more convenient to use when they're needed. But, the result of a series of shorter, less controlled bursts of information result in a more flexible, organic online dialogue that can grow and shape itself based on the team's input. Just think of the last time you sent one of those "First, let me apologize for the length of this email" emails to the entire team, outlining your new brilliant idea, only to have someone from a different department point out that your assumption in paragraph 1, sub-section is based on false assumptions and invalidate the rest of your work plan. Bummer.
I'm not sure that I agree with Ms. Sandberg's assertions that email is going to completely "go away". But, I do believe that email's importance is changing and will be diminished in favor of online collaboration tools and websites that allow people to have a less structured conversations that are still productive (i.e. not chaotic), all while providing triggers for interaction and guidelines for discussion that draw out the best thinking from the entire team into one cohesive dialogue. That's something that a linear-thinking email just can't do.
Let us know in the comments below if you believe that email is going away - or not?