Last year the .Me team got to host Scott Berkun at the Spark.Me conference, where he gave a pretty awesome speech about the future of work, questioning if there is really a good reason we perpetuate old work conventions, like 9 to 5 jobs, dress codes, strict hierarchy, endless meetings… even email?
He pointed out a pretty sobering fact, that about 72% of American adults are not engaged about their job, and more than half of them are actively disengaged, not even caring if people say they don’t care. You can go on and on about how society is going down the drain and people just aren’t what they used to be (In my days, we used to care about our jobs!), but maybe there’s something about work that’s rotten, as Berkun bravely suggested.
Half A Century Old Tool
Or at least the fact that the world has turned o its head and we still hold on to the same old conventions that fit into our daily lives like a square peg into round hole. One of the pet peeves of the modern business world, now widely populated by startups and young companies focused on productivity and flexibility, is email.
This once very handy way of electronic correspondence has been around in one form or the other since 1965 – yes, it has modernised greatly, got a bunch of cool features, even more of those that we don’t need, but it’s still pretty much the same half a century (!) old concept. And like all things outdated, it has started to kill our productivity.
Apparently we waste around 2.2 hours per day or 530 hours a year on email, and while sending our electronic letters to and fro and enter a vicious circle of trying to fix breakdowns in email communication with more emails, causing an even worse mess, which we the attempt to fix, by email, until we’ve lost too much time, energy and our last nerves.
So, what can we do? Well, the problem is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You have to find one or a combo of communication tools that work for you and fulfil your needs. But here are a few alternatives.
Project Managment Tools
Let’s face it, you don’t use emails just to say Hi! to people – you use them because you want or need something done, you’re trying to organise something, DO something. Project management tools allow you to manage whatever you are doing through a single dashboard that shows both tasks that need to be done and the conversations about them in a nice, neat, organised manner where you don’t have to rummage through dozens of cc’s and forwarded emails, trying to decipher what needs to be done and rummaging for the lost attachment.
Basecamp is one of the awesome tools I’ve got to use on a variety of projects and it is everything I want in communication and task management: it is well organized. Or as they say themselves:
With an entire project on one page, nothing gets lost and your team always knows where things are.
Along with asigning tasks, you can hold discussions, make decisions and give feedback, keep track of project progress, create to-do lists, upload files, store idea concepts and draft documents. Everything is in one place, and it feels like a strangely well organized IKEA sort of a solution that makes the one page allotted to a project feel like a spacious mansion.
But there are great alternatives to Basecamp you can try out, like Asana, Active Collab, Trello, Twoodo… there’s just about a hundred of them, and just like jeans, you’ll have to try them out to see if they fit.
If you’re not looking for a collaboration, but a straight-up communication tool, any kind of chronological chat-like system might prove better than email. As Scott berkun mentioned, IRC worked awesomely for his team at WordPress, there is also a special WordPresss theme called P2 that mimics this communication style.
The one I use with the rest of the team is HipChat, and it works awesomely for us because as professional scribblers and event-goers we tend to work remotely a lot, and communicate about several different projects at the same time.
HipChat allows you to make rooms for different purposes, and there you can chat away, mention people by their @handles, so they get a notification that you’re asking for their input, or you can just leave a message lying around for them to find later when they’re not busy.
Social Networks. For Work.
Since we are all sucked into the world of social networks, and our brains did a real evolutionary backflip and got accustomed to this manner of getting and processing information in just a few short years, we might as well use this to our advantage.
There are social network-like tools like Yammer that work very well within larger organizations, and are great for broad knowledge sharing and discussion. Communication is faster, shorter, and less formal than email and it helps connect all the different parts of a company or organization, showing you the expertise you have at hand and never even knew about.
But THE social network, Facebook, is not behind on the corporate use either. FB@Work is a system that’s still in development, although iOS and Android apps have already been launched. This is basically a suited-up version of Facebook, allowing businesses to create their own social networks for employes.
All in all, There is about a million different communication and collaboration tools out there – isn’t it time we put dear old e-mail to rest? If you’re still not convinced, I’ll just leave you with one of the great thinkers of nowadays, Oatmeal: