Email is Dead, I'm Glad!

Technology Trends

I recently wrote an article about how Generation Z are set to change the way we work, largely based on the way they use digital apps and, as early adopters, they help to show how the next couple of years will play out for the rest of us. One of the major themes being that they use email a lot less than previous generations: they use it about 2% of the time for communication compared to 33% by us older folks.

I asked my teenage kids what they thought of email and here’s what they said: 

“it’s bare long and an effort to wait for a reply.” 

Which, roughly translated, means it takes a long time to get a response from the person they’re communicating with. This nicely illustrates why they love Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, iMessage and all of the other messaging apps - it’s instant communication. After all, being social animals, we like to have conversations with other people and that requires immediate responses. That’s why texting became so popular even before smartphones became all the rage.

An article in The Times illustrates this trend further. Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Exeter in the UK, says: “There’s no point emailing students any more. They get in touch with us by social media, especially Twitter…” Organisations that predominately engage with younger generations - such as universities - can’t rely on their customers sending or reading emails and typically have to employ people to monitor their social media accounts full time.

Over the past few years, retail organisations have evolved operating models to become more customer centric and responsive. 

As consumer expectations filter into the internal corporate world, ways of working will change further.

So you would assume that email must be dead or on its way out, almost going the same way as the postal service (which has lost 25% volume in the last 10 years alone). It’s slow and has been overtaken by new technologies. But email is not dead, it’s just evolving argues the Harvard Business Review (HBR), which carried out a study in 2012 and looked at how email was used by 2,600 people at work in the USA, the UK and South Africa. One of the things they found was that email has moved away from its primary purpose of enabling people to communicate to one another. That doesn’t even enter into the top 5 reasons for people using email at work. The top 5 reasons are:

  1. Exchanging Documents (76%)
  2. Sending Information to Groups (69%)
  3. Improving communication over time zones (61%)
  4. Enabling Accountability and Traceability (60%)
  5. Searching for Information (59%)

An average teenager doesn’t do a whole lot of saving messages to cover themselves later and when they share documents they tend to do it via links on apps like DropBox and GoogleDocs rather than sending the latest Word doc or PowerPoint presentation to 50 people on a group email list!

Maybe more interestingly, the HBR study also found that people spent around 50% of their time on email while McKinsey (2012) found it to be closer to a third of their time – either way, it’s a lot. What did we do before email became so embedded in the way we work? Email isn’t real work! It’s a soul sucking activity that stops us being creative and productive, it’s mostly a distraction. Did it help the sales guy make their numbers, or the CFO cut costs, or the CEO develop a collaborative strategy? No, it didn’t and personally, I think organisations will see huge gains in innovation and efficiency when people start to use it less and start adopting other, newer technologies.

Simon Sear


Simon leads SPARCK, helping customers invent new and innovative ideas and prototypes. He has over 20 years experience reliving transformational change to businesses.