Opinion

Is it time to retire email?

4 min read

09 September 2015

Is email still fit for business, or are there more productive ways to communicate now?

How much of the technologies you rely on to do business are more than 30 years old?

You may still have a landline but could use Skype for your calls now, or rely on mobile phones. Similarly, you might have a photocopier but it is probably networked and can scan too. 

However, the majority of you will be using email to engage with colleagues, clients and suppliers. That is because email remains the lowest common denominator tool for keeping in touch, yet its unsuitability to modern working is becoming apparent.

Most email users don’t realise that they are using a 40-year-old technology. Email was designed to send and receive letters in electronic form, as that was all that was needed in the 1970s when work was done in highly hierarchical organisations. 

Yet today businesses and people thrive and create through teamwork and collaboration, often through groups spread across the world. We need new tools to support this way of working, which are optimised for conversations, like modern messengers.

When I was at Skype we disrupted voice and video calling, now a range of new tech startups are trying to do the same for the way we communicate with text. There already exist a range of messenger apps that provide attractive alternatives to email for business conversations.

BitTorrent’s messenger, Bleep, aims to offer more secure communications with better encryption than its competitors. And unlike WhatsApp or Google, copies of messages sent on Bleep will never be saved – adding to its secure nature. 

US firm Slack became the fastest startup to reach the $2bn valuation earlier this year. The company has grown quickly and now has more than 1 million daily users, making it one of the most popular new messengers available.

Japanese start-up ChatWork is an enterprise social network used by 66,000 companies in 183 countries. ChatWork raised £2.5m in venture capital funding in April, and is expected to reach 1 million users by 2016. 

Read tips about emailing more effectively:

Facebook has also entered the business messenger market, with the announcement that it is developing a business-focused version of its messenger service, and that is on top of spending $19bn buying WhatsApp in 2013.

Every example above can enable more productive team conversations, but none are truly optimised for external communications, particularly where two different channels need to be combined. 

Ultimately, though, the key is a tool that also integrates with existing email networks, so that you can communicate with email users without them needing to sign up for another platform. Integration with email is something we learned from how mobile phone networks were introduced alongside landlines. Originally mobile phone numbers were able to call to all landlines and vice versa. Now many people just rely on their mobile. 

Businesses can streamline their communications by rejecting email as their main tool for all electronic communications. To find a better alternative they should review the range of modern messengers available and find one that suits their work and people, can be accepted by their customers and help them to be more productive.

Henn Ruukel is CEO of Fleep and former director of site operations for Skype.