Email is broken, so are meetings

This article https://medium.com/backchannel/shut-down-your-office-you-now-work-in-slack-fa83cb7cce6c is a well-written view about how Slack is growing quickly. I’ll leave the article to make the points about Slack. But skipping Slack for a moment let’s tackle two things that are broken in business today: email and meetings.

Email is broken. Email traps knowledge in silos, it causes dysfunctional group collaboration (how many times have you had a discussion only to find you had left a key person off the list), and often causes more churn and dissension than it ever resolves. How many hours are wasted trading documents back and forth only to discover that people are reacting to something that is stale, out of date.

Meetings are often worse. Imagine a roomful of people most of whom are typing on their laptops or phones. They are at best listening for a few key words to know when to jump into the conversation and demonstrate expertise. At worst they are completely tuned out and when asked a question need to have the conversation rewound.

One of the many money quotes in this article is from a book The Year Without Pants:

Most people doubt online meetings can work, but they somehow overlook that most in-person meetings don’t work either. Being online does mean everyone might be distracted, but plenty of meetings today are filled with people with their laptops open, messaging each other about how bored they are.

And this is the crux. When we try new ways of doing business we’re often met with enormous resistance and asked “can’t we just have a meeting, that’s how we always do it.” And yet no one seriously questions if in fact a meeting works either.

On my ever-growing Trello board (which integrates with Slack but in an odd fashion) of things to do; build a statistical model for how much time is wasted in email and meetings. We had the beginnings of some of this research in Microsoft Research FUSE Labs. We even explored having an email system in which everything was public; then we bought Yammer and that experiment died (along, apparently, with Yammer).

Can Slack, Basecamp, Asana, Hip Chat, Quip, and the host of other tools replace email? Maybe, maybe we need a little more. But if you could remove the hours of wasted meeting-time each week what else could you accomplish?

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