Image [cc] dharder9475

I have a love/hate relationship with email. It is the first thing I open up in the morning when the alarm clock goes off, and it is one of the last things I check before going to bed. I use it religiously… but I really would rather not be so reliant upon it. Unfortunately, since about 1995, it has become the primary communications tool for business. Your co-worker that works six feet away from you would rather email you a question than lean back in his chair and ask. It has become a de facto database of information. It has become a timeline of events. It has become a system used by many of us to keep everything we can “just in case” someone questions why you did something and you can go find that email they sent you 18 months ago to prove to them that you weren’t just acting on an impulse. Put plainly… it has become a monster.

Do we really need to use email all the time? Is it the best medium for communications? Is there something better? All of these questions have been asked for years, yet it still dominates business communication. However, there are some ideas that are happening in businesses that may finally challenge the idea that email is too ingrained into our business methods to go away. The crack in email’s armor may be those companies that ban its use between employees. There was big news last year when British information technology company, Atos, banned internal email, but is that something that others (including law firms) could emulate?

I did talk with a legal recruiting company while at AALL in Boston that has done just that. I won’t cover all the facts (mostly because I’d love for someone at the company to guest post and explain why they are doing it), but here were some of the reasons that they told me.

First of all, they realized that email is simply inefficient. Once you get more than two people on a chain, it can get messy in a hurry. They were also realizing that when people left the company, even if they still had their email files on their server, most of their business knowledge and experience history was tied up in those email files, and in reality, there was no good way to isolate that. In order to counter these factors, they went with a Yammer solution for all internal communications.

Yammer solved a few issues for them. First of all, it was a nice clean interface, and by setting up “groups” based on how they worked, it allowed for members of the group to jump into the middle of a conversation and look back at what was discussed and quickly be up to speed. It also allowed for files to be housed in their central document repository, rather than creating multiple copies that go out to everyone. In addition to all that, once someone leaves the company, their public conversations are still there to be found long after they have left.

The thing that impressed me the most while talking to this group, was the fact that other members of the company jumped in to the conversation to express how much they love this type of communication (this included the younger employees as well as the more ‘experienced’ employees.) They got excited while talking about this, and they would chime in with stories of how certain members were skeptical of banning internal email, but once they jumped into the process and saw the benefits, they were quickly converted to true believers.

Email, like the telephone, will probably be around for generations to come. It is so easy, and it is so built in to most current business processes, that it won’t go away anytime soon. That doesn’t mean that other things won’t come in as alternatives. Whether it is Yammer, Instant Messaging, or something like a Facebook Groups Page, or Google Plus, there are options out there that can be real alternatives to email. I for one, look forward to testing out those alternatives and finding something else to wake up to in the morning!