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Email vs Slack – which is the best communication solution

As the pandemic forces people indoors, IT teams in companies racing against time to ensure that their employees are online and ready to work from home. As you update policies every day, many employees feel lost in translation—due to inefficient communication. This blog focuses on the benefits of choosing one efficient way of communication over the other or choosing which one is best for the task at hand.

A history lesson for the uninitiated—how electronic communication began?

For years, in and out boxes for memos were considered the de-facto mode of communication worldwide. When email joined the bandwagon in 1993, there was an explosion of email hosting websites such as Hotmail, Yahoo!, AOL, Lycos and many others. By the turn of the millennium, an email address went from being a style statement to an expectation.

Emails replaced mountains of paperwork with just a click. When combined with spam filters, sorting algorithms and intelligent scheduling now in-built in most platforms, email is possibly the most-used communication tool around the world after instant messaging.

For organizations, emails are an essential communication tool. Employees typically check email as soon as they get to work—and in 2021, as soon as it arrives. Today, employees spend over 2.5 hours every day on email—making it one of the most-used tools in an organization. Often, important and urgent messaging might get buried under the ton of emails you get every day.

Instant messaging is another tool that organizations now use for inter-organization communication in real-time. In 2014, Slack launched publicly and advertised itself as the solution to the email “problem”. Seven years hence, there is still no clear winner.
Before we get into the details and the nitty-gritty, let us first answer some basic questions.

What is Slack?

Slack is a real-time business communication tool that acts as a singular place for messages, tools and files. Slack offers persistent communication channels with many IRC-style features that can be organized by topic, private groups, and direct messaging. Available for both desktop and mobile. Simply put, Slack is a shared chatroom that all members of the organization use.

What are the benefits of using Slack?

Slack allows teams to communicate in real-time. Slack also limits access to communication channels within the tool. For example, only the member of a communication channel can participate in it. Slack merges the power of instant messaging with formal business communication, making it a powerful tool that helps teams save time. Slack is great for enhancing team productivity and reducing the number of emails sent back and forth.

Here are the top 5 benefits of using slack

  1. All communication is in one place. You do not have to hunt for email threads anymore. Messages, files, documents—all are within one tool.
  2. Slack easily integrates with other business tools and services such as Git, Trello and many others.
  3. Slack allows search from one search bar. This search permeates down to document type.
  4. Slack allows seamless file sharing without having to send email attachments.
  5. Slack is accessible anywhere and reduces email inbox bloat.

What is email?

This is a question that possibly does not need an answer anymore, but still. Email or email —AKA electronic mail is a way to exchange messages between people using electronic devices. Email has been around since the 1970s and has helped to replace mountain loads of paperwork—saving millions of trees in the process. Email also allows sending secure, legal messages to the recipient.

What are the benefits of using email?

Even though this is another redundant question, but we must answer it for the uninitiated. Emails have many benefits that include:

  1. Emails allow targeted formal communication
  2. Emails can be sent around the world and to any entity unless restricted by policy.
  3. Emails are great for tracing information sources and act as a tool for legal services.
  4. Emails are also excellent for marketing purposes, where other modes of communication, such as real-time messaging, fail.
  5. Email is easy to manage, reliable and fast.

The rise of real-time communication

For teams, communication is vital, especially when teams are working remotely. The real need for communication is to enhance productivity and ensure that everyone is on the same page. For most organizations, communication is vital for the success of a project. For those working on Agile and other iterative methodologies, constant communication is the only way to ensure that the project stays on track.

Real-time communication comes to the rescue of such projects with communication tools such as Microsoft Teams, Basecamp and Slack. These tools help members of a team communicate with each other.

These tools also allow project members and stakeholders to jump into a conversation without sifting through volumes of email threads. With intelligent search capabilities, they make it easy for Agile teams to stay agile.

Will Slack replace email?

I doubt it. Every messaging system has its place in an organization, and every organization is different. What is important is that Slack would probably never replace email as a tool for formal communication or communication to external stakeholders. Although Slack is quite useful, it can often cause bottlenecks and distract team members, causing them to lose focus. Slack also often leads to miscommunication as messages might be higher up in the chat, and many can miss those in a high-traffic channel. Coming to email, a lot of times, employees mark emails as read to save time. This can cause you to miss important emails. However, each messaging platform has its uses.

You must understand that email is a technology and not a product. Slack, however, is a proprietary product used for real-time team communication. The product vision of a company does not bind the evolution and further development of email. Additionally, as it is with any product, Slack may fall out of favour in due course of time, but email as a technology is here to stay. Using both these technologies to complement each other is the best way to ensure business growth through effective communication.

Situations in which Slack is better

Slack is best if your teams need a quick answer to something simple, wish to collaborate and share in real-time or need immediate responses. Communication speeds on Slack can often cause people to miss important updates, lose track of stuff or forget to respond. Additionally, spending too much time “slacking” can negatively impact productivity. Use slack when:

  • You need to get a quick answer for something simple
  • You want your whole team to collaborate in real-time
  • You need immediate responses
  • You want to share random, off-topic stuff with teammates

Situations in which email is better

Organizations prefer email for guaranteed deliverability and the high availability of email. Additionally, formal messaging that is important is best via email. Emails also offer the unmatched capability of including external stakeholders and customers without divulging too much information. Suppose you wish to share information about a resolved issue with a specific customer base. In that case, an email will serve a much better purpose than having to bring them over to your Slack channel and type all that information again. In short, use email when:

  • You need to inform external stakeholders
  • You are sharing something that requires formatting and attention to detail
  • You are sharing formal, critical, legally binding communication
  • You need to share something that does requires inputs from a large group, but not in real-time
  • You have messages with a very long “shelf-life” or those that can be read even after a few years and still be relevant

Is there even a clear winner?

Slack requires an email ID to sign up. For a workplace scenario, Slack requires a work email address. Slack cannot replace email altogether but can reduce the number of emails you get in a day. Both email and Slack have their use for a high-performing organization, and none are easily replaceable.

In today’s fast-paced, agile world, it is crucial to keep up with the ever-expanding options for chat and email tools. It is also vital to ensure that your organization uses a healthy mix of these two modes of communication to empower remote teams, not bog them down with information overload.

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