Depending on who you ask, technology either drives a wedge between us and hinders genuine human communication, or it’s brought about a new renaissance in global collaboration and connection. Actually, both are true at least to some degree. While levels of meaning may get lost in translation while we communicate on digital devices, we are now using technology every day to work together in ways that would have never been possible, or even imaginable.
Each new technology rollout has reinvented the workplace in a big way: the telephone, the fax machine, the internet, email. But our rate of developing new technologies is only moving faster, and the next decades will likely see huge new changes in the ways people communicate at work.
Why Email Could Become Obsolete
As much as email seems entrenched in our lives — office life in particular — the truth is, it’s on the brink of becoming obsolete. According to a 2012 survey of teenagers, only 6% of them used email on a regular basis. Five years later, as their generation embarks upon their professional lives, the list of alternatives to email has only gotten longer and more enticing — making them less likely than ever to be regular email users.
New generations, accustomed to the prevalence of social media, naturally prefer methods of communication that more closely replicate a real-time conversation. On social media and chat apps, messages are exchanged seamlessly and instantaneously, effortlessly switching media between text, gif images, video, voice and more. Everyone can take part in the conversation; email, on the other hand, is a direct line of communication only between those in the sender list.
Email lacks the natural versatility of tools like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Google Hangouts and Slack, and it seems unlikely that it could be fundamentally restructured to compete. Instead, tech companies are throwing all their investments and creativity behind chat apps, repurposing email’s core functionalities like file sharing and calendars and adding them to newer, more modern technologies.
New Technologies ready to revolutionize the workplace
It’s all about the ultra-versatile instant messaging clients, many of which are already in heavy rotation at younger-skewing, more forward-thinking companies. Currently, clients like Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts are used alongside email, but it’s looking likely that they may soon edge out Outlook all together.
In addition to these programs, chatbots are starting to earn their place in workplace. Companies use these semi-intelligent yet simple digital conversationalists to facilitate communication of simple requests: automating meeting invites and sharing data, for example. They’re also useful when it comes to communication with clients, gathering basic information in order to direct a phone call or chat.
Voice-operated personal assistants (such as Siri, Google Voice, or the newly popular Alexa from Amazon) can also help facilitate intra-office communication, allowing employees to send off messages, schedule meetings or check calendars in a hands-free and effortlessly natural way.
Moving toward new trends
While the great potential of new office communication technologies is well documented, implementation is slower. Emails, phone calls and texts still make up 75 percent of communication between coworkers, and company-owned desktop computers are still the main device for workplace contact. Despite the wide acknowledgement of the greater potential and versatility of chat apps and handheld or voice-operated smart devices, these “old school” bastions still have a grip on the way we do business.
One of the biggest obstacles on the course of implementation is the learning curve among older employees who didn’t grow up using new technologies as second nature. But as Millennials and younger generations dominate more and more of the workplace, it’s likely to speed the pace of change when it comes to office communications tech.