Those of you following the recent news on this topic will have seen individuals complaining about the grip of email and the time it costs them for quite some time now. This has been followed by companies starting to try out email free days including some Silicon Valley high techs including Intel and Veritas. The reasons have two basic roots; one that e-mailing out gets e-mails back and the numbers keep on building so the basic concept of using e-mails is creating more work; the other that e-mail is being misused in the work environment as it allows bad working practice.
Everyone knows and/or has been evolved in episodes of people using e-mail to ‘avoid’ what should be done face to face. A good read on defining good e-mail practice including a code of practice that could be distributed was published in the New York Times recently. Personally as colleagues know I will often respond to an e-mail by picking up the phone to call them to discuss working on the basis that by interacting we are more likely to mutually develop the best answer.
None of this really addresses the point; which is why if one of the essential differentiators of the human race is that it can communicate well enough to use this for collaboration do we have such trouble?

I believe the answer lies in the lack of social context in the form and use of this particular branch of technology, more particular the enterprise e-mail directory offers little social help in determining relationships, and the format is content centric not personally interactive. Simply put it doesn’t allow a group of people to develop a social group by negotiating the common aims, approaches, views, what ever, that will bind them together in behaving cooperatively.
Today we are facing two changes to this situation; the first is a wide range, and still growing selection of technologies; but in many ways it is the second that is the most likely to drive the change, a refresh of the work force. The generation for whom multiple conversations at the same time using various windows on their devices is an entirely normal way of doing their homework with their friends. If you have teens then watch for this phenomenon and see how they have developed real collaboration.
But what should we expect this to drive in our enterprises, markets, indeed in all aspects of business? I have been reading a report by the EU developed by working with various experts in the appropriate fields of technology and business that gives some big insights into this. Entitled ‘New Collaborative Working Environments 2020’ remarkably it can be found online, and it’s well worth a read.