Forget about email. Give employees the digital tools to build an empire


In part three of his series on the top five challenges facing employees today, The Team’s employee engagement expert, Cliff Ettridge, says messaging beats email if you want to work collaboratively and iteratively.

If we’re spending increasing time on our devices, digital tools should really pull their weight. For instance, the average business user receives 90 emails a day. Of those, 76 aren’t spam. Ignoring the amount of time taken to deal with each of these emails, that’s 76 points in the day when an employee’s concentration is disrupted by an email. A linear piece of communication that invites little collaboration.

Microsoft Teams and Slack, on the other hand, are two collaboration tools that may soon become ubiquitous inside businesses. And digital immigrants had better get used to them, because Generation Z, who are now entering the workforce, don’t know what Outlook is.

For the uninitiated, tools like Slack enable employees to post messages in online spaces that can be read by all employees. But this isn’t mindless chat – or it shouldn’t be. The spaces are dedicated to project work and enable employees to upload and collaborate on documents. In a world where the next generation has ditched the text message and is adept at multiple conversations via Whatsapp, this is what will drive productivity in the future.

The advantage of these tools is that they encourage collaboration. Anyone can build on any other’s message. And so, as a team, you are constantly iterating. Building together. Never relying on an answer from one person in an email chain.

This shift to iterative working finds its roots in the tech worlds of Agile. In previous days, the way we worked was simple. We identified a project need; agreed on the need; developed the solution; tested it and then launched it. That whole process took time and, as we know, time is a killer. Nowadays, companies want to deliver products and services faster. So we iterate. We release pieces of solutions every day. Or in Amazon’s case, every second.

That requires a change in mentality. It’s about encouraging leaders to let their teams take control of end-to-end quality. It means letting go a little. HSBC have been at the forefront of this culture change by creating pods of employee teams in the tech functions all focused on owning a specific part of the product. It belongs to them. It’s where they can make a huge change. That’s an incredibly powerful offer to employees.

Employees want tools they can interact with – that they can play with. RBS recently engaged 45,000 colleagues by creating a simple online profiler so employees could see how their preferred work style fitted into RBS’ new brand and values. Tools like this instigate debate and discussion and result in much more meaningful conversations around things like brand.

Start thinking about how digital tools can help employees play with content, collate valuable data and kick start conversations. Start to create a culture where you get teams off email and Outlook and into collaboration tools. Do it soon. Generation Z are knocking on your door.