In Pursuit of Profession: Should email die?


It’s 2017 and we’re still supposed to be doing things we aren’t quite yet. We’re supposed to be zooming around in flying cars. We supposed to all be lounging around while robots do all of our work. And speaking of work, we’re supposed to have moved beyond such clunky things as desktop computers and email. But according to a recent survey from Technalysis Research, the most common work device is still a desktop computer, Microsoft Windows is still used for nearly two-thirds of all computer-related work and 75 percent of all communications between co-workers still take place using email, phone calls and text messaging.

While email is an absolutely wonderful tool and changed the world of workplace communications like nothing before it, it is also still being used for purposes beyond its useful limits. Take collaboration and project management (PM) for example. Email is not the right tool to get teams on the same page. “The biggest problem with email as a tool for teams is that if we're working together, you have information stored in your inbox that is valuable to me as your teammate. But I have no way of seeing it or knowing what you have and what you don't,” said Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike, a SaaS-based work management and collaboration platform with millions of users and more than 14,000 organizations using its paid products. “That means I need to go out of my way fishing for information, and you need to go out of your way to send it to me. That's two people's time (mine and yours) that we've wasted just to share what might just be one of many details about a project we're working on. And if you're on vacation or out of the office, forget it - it could be weeks before I get a response.”

The scenario above is just the start of the domino effect of inefficiency and poor communication when email is used for collaboration purposes. “The other major factor is the challenges it presents with organization. If you and I collaborate on a project through email for three days, at the end of those three days, we may have a back-and-forth dialogue of 15 or 20 emails. And those emails may contain 10 versions of the same file, and also important decisions that we've made. The only way we can find those decisions later on is to read through the entire thread. And if someone else wants to know them, we have to forward them the entire thread. It's not sustainable when you're working on more than a few projects at once,” Filev said.

A better mouse trap

Collaboration is the new black in the workplace. According to a recent survey by ClearCompany, 75 percent of employers rate team work and collaboration as “very important.” Millennials are especially wired for collaboration and yearn to have the latest tools to foster it. In that same ClearCompany survey, 49 percent of Millennials support social tools for workplace collaboration. Furthermore, 40 percent of Millennials would even pay out of their own pocket for collaboration tools to improve workplace productivity.

At their core, applications such as Wrike’s tool provides context around collaboration by keeping project plans and goals linked to the conversations and documents about them – something email just is not designed to do in an efficient manner. “We've done research in surveys that tell us "waiting for other people" is one of the biggest productivity killers. By keeping information about projects in someplace where you can access it, you can work faster without needing to wait for others to give you the answers you need,” said Filev. “If people want to find the most up-to-date information, they know it can be found in the PM software. It makes sure that people are all operating with the most up to date information and, simultaneously, that everyone has access to it.”

Real world examples

Collaboration and PM tools really shine when more and more people are added to the mix on a project. For example, take two very different clients that use Wrike to help manage their projects:

“One of our customers, Umpqua Bank, told us that a team of six people handle over 150 creative projects per month thanks to implementing a PM tool instead of managing work via emails. Beforehand, they had no way of knowing what the status of those tasks were, who was doing what, and the creatives spent half their day trying to communicate that. The PM tool actually increased their capacity and made their director's life a lot easier,” Filev said.

“Another customer is the City of Reno. They found that collaborating across departments was a big challenge. If you can imagine a city trying to coordinate initiatives across City Hall, Police, Fire, and other agencies, there are a lot of places where the ball could be dropped. They found that a PM system increased the visibility and helped keep projects moving forward, even when there are lots of different stakeholders involved across multiple locations,” said Filev.

Whether it’s a private bank, a governmental entity or another type of organization, workers typically work on similar projects over time as part of their job description. Collaboration and PM applications can help speed up the turnaround of these projects as well. “In our solution, you can create project templates and duplicate them quickly whenever you need to - and your peers who are assigned to the various tasks will be notified instantly,” Filev said. “This saves a huge amount of time for teams, especially when they have high volumes of projects.”

Let email be email

For Filev, email is best when it’s used for short-answer questions, for announcements within a company regarding administrative changes or for working with external partners or vendors. All it takes is a little teamwork to make the change away from email to a better tool for workplace collaboration. “The main challenge is that it requires a cultural shift within organizations towards sharing and openness. This is good in the long run, but like any major change, it can have some pains during the adoption process - especially if workers are leery of new technologies. Leaders and IT professionals can help their users with adoption by sharing lots of context into the "why," behind the adoption,” said Filev.

In the end, organizations want tools that will help them improve the bottom line. With collaboration and PM tools, we might just be on the cusp of a new era in organizational communication, much like where we were when email first became the primary communication tool. “[PM tools] are going to keep getting smarter in the coming years, so that they are more predictive of your needs, can help you organize and categorize work automatically, and will help you monitor projects. In a way, they'll be able to identify problems before they start,” Filev said.

For more information on Wrike, visit