Email. OK, we all use it and yes, it has made a massive difference to working lives (another debate on pros and cons…). But, are we blindly following an out-moded form of office communciation and ignoring the new benefits of social networking in the workplace ?
I was surprised to learn that the Australian PM is strongly encouraging his cabinet to adopt a new business tool, called Slack, to improve instant messaging and group discussions. As the Austrialian PM don’t have a serious track record for innovative thinking in technologies I thought it worth checking out.
Slack allows employers and employees to create “channels” for different topics and then post updates, files and videos that are then archived and searchable by everyone inside that business. It allows for open posting across an organisation, direct messaging, and for private ‘groups’ to be created.
For me, the greatest advantage is in open searching facilities. We currently use email clients, such as Outlook, for mostly one-to-one communication. Some distribution lists may exist for your organisation, but it is likely you don’t control the membership. We work around this by copying in colleagues who may, or may not, have an interest in the conversation.
In a small/medium sized company, such as the one I work for, open access to most email exchange, such as customer-facing conversations, is vitally important. Obviously nobody wants to be inundated by receiving all messages, so the method of having open searches for messages, using hashtags, similar to way that Twitter manages information seems reasonably intuitive.
Integration across social channels
What also appeals to me is the potential to aggregate other forms of social chatter, from platforms such as twitter, facebook, etc, which serve most of our daily communications. You may already be using other software for this, such as HootSuite, but with your work email client running separate. My view is that for many web-connected businesses, where a customer focus is paramount and networking is just part of the job, this integration across platforms is a more effective way of working.
IM at scale
What I am less sure about is how scalable this approach is. My use of TweetDeck for managing day-to-day twitter feeds is more or less manageable, though any more than a day away results in endlessly long streams of loosely connected messages. Using TweetDeck for twitterChats (synchronous ‘chat’ sessions on themed subjects, using twitter) suggests this approach might result in something approaching information overload and a lack of connection to individual conversations.
Overall, I’m intrigued by whether this could improve the current divide between a professional email client, and all their other cloud of social tools we love to use. This approach seems to be the way forward, though it may take time for business culture to adapt. Certainly, if not Slack, then no doubt others will (or already are) producing the next generation. However, we all know one thing: whilst these will be sold on the premise of saving time and improving efficiency, we all know that more time will be spent managing that exponentially expanding in-tray of information.