Cockroach Image by H. Hach from PixabayBased on a survey of 8,600 business workers, Slack has concluded that it believes email is doing more harm than good. The survey revealed that the average worker spends 10 hrs 47m drafting emails. Workers in the US spend an immense 13 hrs 23m, UK workers 8 hrs 42m. That is over a day each, with those same workers believing that most of their emails are not fully read or understood.

The respondents of the survey believed that only 36% of their emails are fully read or understood (US – 29%, UK 42%). This statistic is hard to evidence, though the survey identified the top three reasons senders believed this:

  • Their questions were not answered – 62%
  • They were addressed by the wrong name – 51%
  • Asked a question they just answered – 49%

More pertinent is perhaps the insight about when the respondents themselves do not respond to emails they receive.

48% say they miss emails as they land in junk or spam folders. 57% say that if the email is too long, more than eight sentences, they won’t read the whole thing. UK respondents were more patient than US ones (42% vs 72%). Perhaps more pertinently, respondents will delete before reading an email based on the subject line. While the US respondents deleted more than the UK respondents, they probably also received more.

Does this mean emails are obsolete?

While this statistic may shock, a qualitative element may have given a deeper response. Why do people delete emails? Are these business emails or just notifications where the subject line informs the reader of what they need to know? On the length of emails, anecdotally, a long email may put one off. Still, it does depend on the reason behind the email and whether the sender has been able to identify the reason for sending it in the first two sentences.

There are consequences to not reading emails, with 45% of workers missing something because they failed to read the email. It appears that UK respondents miss fewer things, perhaps because they read more of the lengthy emails. They only miss events 31% of the time compared to 59% of US respondents.

Is it the fault of email that people miss things, or is it that people are using emails ineffectively? Email has been around for a long time, and there is a lot of spam associated with it. Slack argues that a modern collaboration tool can replace email, but is that the only way forward? People need training on how to use email, how to craft an email, and what to include. Unlike letter writing there has never been a set format. The advantage of Slack and its channels is that conversations are immediately identified as relevant to the receiver, and the format lends itself to shorter, more succinct communication. The big question is will that last, though?

There is little doubt that email has issues, 46% believe email is an “outdated form of communication” (US 66%, UK 27%). This is a huge difference between the two nations and indicates that the US is closer to dumping emails than the UK. The top three hindrances respondents found with emails were:

  • filtering irrelevant emails – 51% (US 54%, UK 49%)
  • responding to emails – 47% (US 59%, UK 35%)
  • finding internal information I need for my role – 38% (US 54%, UK 23%)

There are also too many non-relevant items in the inbox for 44%. Without setting up complex rules, emails all come into the inbox, and there is no good way to prioritise. Channels solve that issue, with the most important messaging at hand readily. 44% noted that their email inboxes are clogged with irrelevant emails.

More challenges to emails

The younger generation has grown up with social media and chat, a less formal environment for communication. 57% of Gen Z and 46% of millennials stated they feel an expectation of formality on email, versus just 37% of Gen X and 34% of baby boomers.

Again, the younger generations in the US are readier for a change than the UK respondents. The differences were again substantive. Whether emails are a waste of email, 61% of US Gen Z respondents agreed, but only 30% of UK Gen Z respondents did so.

The result is that email is a chore for many and reduces productivity. Globally, 57% feel bogged down by email. In the US, that number rises to 73%, and in the UK, 40%. Generationally, the results were not that different, though the younger generations were higher. With the US workers sending and presumably receiving more emails, their challenge is higher. The question is whether this is a trend that will follow in the UK.

Deirdre Byrne, Head of UK and Ireland, Slack
Deirdre Byrne, Head of UK and Ireland, Slack

Deirdre Byrne, Head of UK and Ireland, Slack, stated, “Email is the cockroach of the internet – it simply won’t die. Yet when it comes to business communication, the research reveals this 50-year-old tech isn’t fit for purpose.

“Employees at small businesses are losing a working day each week to drafting emails – which often go unread – at the expense of productive work. It’s up to leaders to embrace technology that helps streamline communication and knowledge sharing, accelerates work with AI and automation and keeps everyone engaged and focused on more meaningful and impactful work. Email may never fully go away, but if we can get beyond the tyranny of the inbox, we can make a massive difference to work today.” 

The solution

Slack understandably argues for a move to synchronous collaboration software where channels organise conversation streams, enabling recipients to identify urgent stuff. Respondents believe that a reduction in email usage would improve productivity. There is an inertia, though, with many still using email because it is cheap and it has always been done that way.

The increasing use of AI across the organisation is also a factor. 42% believe that AI tools will increase their productivity, and only 9% feel the opposite. The US respondents were more bullish, with 55% believing in the power of AI, and the UK a lowly 29%. Where respondents see the benefits of AI is its ability to deliver immediate responses (50%), the ability to stay competitive (47%) and as a means to reduce and replace repetitive tasks (47%).

Slack believes its productivity platform and collaboration tool can help organisations replace email. It can become the place of work. With its deep integration into Salesforce 360 and integrations to many other business solutions.

Enterprise Times: What does this mean

Email isn’t dead yet, and like cockroaches may be very hard to kill off. It will be interesting to see how communication evolves in the US. More and more business users will likely use collaboration platforms like Slack, Teams and Zoho Cliq. Yet, it will be very hard to replace email completely, and the informal nature of Slack is also a challenge for some organisations. There are times when intercompany communication must use formal language or face compliance issues.

Perhaps this issue is less with the technology platform and more around training on how to communicate professionally and effectively. There is no doubt that AI will have a significant impact on communication, and it is certainly easier (it seems) to embed in chat platforms. However, is Microsoft or Google considering how AI can elevate their email platforms? To date, intelligent assistants in Office (remember the paperclip) have failed.


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