Maybe it’s time to accept that email just wasn’t designed to do all the things we try to get it to do. Like manage projects and files, share documents or (groan) schedule meetings. It’s not just that it’s considered “old-fashioned,” but with so many other options for collaboration and communication, email may soon be obsolete. Just ask your teenager to check his email and see what the response is!
At ABA TECHSHOW 2013, I heard variations on this theme in New York Times columnist David Pogue’s keynote and at the “Mobile Collaboration” session presented by Dennis Kennedy and Patrick Crowley. “Email may not be dead, but it’s in trouble,” says Kennedy, a well-known technology lawyer and author.
So why do we keep trying to fix email by changing behaviors and adding features? (Zero inbox? Folders, flags and tags? Seriously?) Maybe we need to give up the ghost, stop relying on email for everything and investigate a few alternatives.
- Texting and instant messaging. A lot of email is logistical. “Are you there?” “Can we talk?” “Remember your court date tomorrow.” Why not send appointment reminders via text, or send an IM as a precursor to a more in-depth phone call or meeting? If you practice criminal law like Crowley, your clients may not even have a computer or a phone that’s capable of receiving emails. Do texts or IMs seem unprofessional for your particular practice? Then at least consider an app like MeetingsWizard to shortcut those frustrating rounds of “scheduling” emails.
- Social media. Once you know which networks your people can be found on, you can replace email with direct messages in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. In both Facebook and Google+ green icons show when friends or circle buddies are online and available. Beyond that, Facebook’s new Messenger for Mobile app points to the rise of “messaging” apps. How else can you deploy social media sites for collaboration? How about invitation-only LinkedIn groups? Some firms are even using Pinterest to archive and share certain types of documents.
- Online meeting rooms and VOIP. Videoconferencing and services like GoToMeeting have been around for a while, of course, and the free (or cheap) VOIP services like Skype are getting better all the time. Skype, for example, is not just for Internet phone calls. You can use it to type messages, share your screen and share documents. Some prefer Google+ Hangouts, which are free, easy (except for the rounds of email needed to schedule them across time zones) and savable. But beware the fact that Hangouts are public—meaning anyone can ask to join in. Not the best for confidential client chats.
- File-sharing services. Why send big documents or even small ones through email and face the inevitable “what format is that in?” and “oops, forgot to attach it” game? Remember the pain of sending large files via an FTP site? No more. Just drag it to Dropbox or another cloud file-sharing service. But be sure whatever service you use has the requisite security protocols in place, of course.
- Project managers. From Google Docs and Evernote to more robust services like Asana and Trello, project managers not only help you organize the moving parts of projects and conversations, brainstorm, and share documents and calendars, they help you delegate and manage others, too.
Cut Down on the Complications
The fear with all these new tools and services is randomly adding more things you’ll need to check each day—multiplying instead of reducing the time suck. Most of us already try to track too many things. Kennedy advises conducting a “communications audit” to assess how you currently work with people, and the various tools you are using—on the road, in court, when brainstorming, with clients and so on.
Be sure to ask clients for their preferred method of communication. You might be surprised. What are their pain points? What exactly can you move away from email? Then, with those things in mind, think about ways to pare down and avoid creating more “silos.” Look at combining tools instead, so you can limit the number of places you have to go each day.
The goal, in addition to rethinking email, is to find a suite of tools that make sense for the way you communicate now—and do the work to get comfortable using them.
You might just find a whole lot more time and a lot less stress in your day.