With over 9 billion emails sent daily, it's no wonder that Microsoft believes they offer the number one social networking platform in the world. The usage numbers absolutely dwarf Facebook, MySpace and Linked-In membership combined.
With over 9 billion emails sent daily, it's no wonder that Microsoft believes they offer the number one social networking platform in the world. The usage numbers absolutely dwarf Facebook, MySpace and Linked-In membership combined. Email is mission critical for us as business users to get our daily jobs done. Imagine what it would be like if you couldn't access to your email. Most of us have experienced technical difficulties or issues with email and the result is almost complete immobilization until the email service is restored. I am amazed at even my own reliance on email to complete my daily work activities.
The question I have is simple: "Is email the best tool for Corporate Social Networking or CSN?"
Before we can answer this question, we must first define the term corporate social networking and describe its key value proposition for organizations. You will hear varying definitions of CSN, but for this article my definition is as follows:
"Tools and methodologies which help to transparently connect and build the knowledge, talent and relationships within an organization to improve business performance and gain competitive advantage."
Using this simple definition, does email deliver on CSN? I would say "no" and let me tell you why.
Email, the great time waster.
Email is a great communication tool but it is also be extremely intrusive, reactive and (ironically) a significant time waster. Think about how many times you have received email messages that have nothing to do with you or your role in the company. For some strange reason your name is on the "Cc" list and you reverse engineer the entire thread only to discover that the request, comment or question did not fall under your area of expertise. This is extremely common in corporations today and wastes a lot of valuable time.
"Many knowledge workers that I have spoken to actually believe that responding to all of their emails in a work day is extremely important and critical to doing their job effectively."
The statistics don't lie. According to Gartner Group, the average knowledge worker spends almost 20% of their day sending, receiving, organizing and managing their inbox. Do the math and the productivity loss to any company is staggering. In a 1000-person company, the loss can add up to more than $4 million dollars!
Knowledge sharing or knowledge hoarding?
As much as email is supposed to promote knowledge sharing, it also promotes "knowledge hoarding". Take a look at how many folders you use in your inbox to store and organize email messages and attachments. Ten? Twenty? Fifty? Even more? Don't worry, you're not alone - everyone does it. The problem is that much of this "stored away" information could be vital knowledge that your colleagues need to help them get their jobs done - more quickly and efficiently. But email is selective, so only those individuals lucky enough to be on the receipient-list are "in the know". Other employees, including with new recruits, do not even see this information. All of this corporate knowledge is "locked away" in the receipients' inboxes, where it does not get used and is not optimized within the organization. Add to this the overburdened IT department which has to continually manage and back up these redundant email messages and attachments, and the drawbacks of email reliance become obvious.
I could go on and on about knowledge sharing... but I think you get the point.
Finally, as well as hampering productivity and knowledge sharing, email is a security nightmare. With the enormous numbers of emails flying back and forth within a company and outside the firewall, chances are good that someone in your organization, at least once, has sent an email containing confidential information or an attachment to the wrong person. Email is clearly an IP risk and can result in some serious knowledge leakage.
In short, email does a poor job at connecting and building the knowledge, talent and relationships that are intrinsic to an organization and vital to its overall success.
While I believe that email is not an effective collaboration and communication tool, I do believe that email plays a significant role in building extremely successful corporate social networks.
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