How often has this happened to you: You’re working on a project that needs feedback from other members of your organization. You send out an email with your project attached, asking some of your colleagues to respond with any feedback they see fit. Soon after, you get multiple emails from various colleagues offering suggestions and changes. Now you’ve got to aggregate all of the suggestions back into your original document, hoping that none of them conflict since your colleagues have no idea what they each suggested.

Sure, you’ll likely get all of the information you need, but is this really the best way to collaborate within your organization? I’d argue that email has actually become a hindrance to organizational collaboration because of overuse and a dependency that has us living out of our inboxes. With enterprise collaboration software offerings such as Microsoft SharePoint, email and personal drives are dead.

Why is email dead?

The biggest problem with email is that it is your own personal silo, which isn’t accessible to anyone else in your organization. I work with multiple departments on a day-to-day basis, and while we have a majority of our discussions in person, there is still a lot of discussion and decision making that goes on in email threads. What happens if a necessary person is left off of the thread, or if the email gets deleted? Here are some of the issues organizations run into when depending heavily on email:

  • Making and Tracking Decisions – Countless times I’m forwarded a part of an email thread that I wasn’t originally on as an “FYI” or “can you fix this”. These types of things can easily get lost in your inbox. Also, when you leave the organization or change roles, this information isn’t transitioned to your replacement, resulting in a knowledge gap.
  • Announcements – Traditionally, company announcements are sent via email to all employees. In reality, though, these company-wide emails are really a one-way broadcast and do not encourage collaboration. They are mostly just deleted and often unread.
  • Seeking Answers/Feedback – I’ve found that when doing this via email, people tend to add in the “usual suspects” they always ask or people with whom they are most comfortable, which narrows the scope of opinion. Also, people can find themselves asked the same questions over and over because there is no archive anywhere for their colleagues to go to see if a question has been asked before.

Why are personal drives dead?

Personal drives are a collaboration nightmare. Using our example above, the minute you send out a document as an attachment to multiple emails, you immediately have a version control disaster. The original sender is left to try and merge all of the changes into one document before likely having to send it out again for final approvals, creating a vicious cycle of version roulette.

The issue of accessibility also comes up here, as only the owner of the personal drive has constant access to the data on it. If a colleague needs a document they have to ask for it, whereas if it were in SharePoint, they could go and access it on their own.

How can we stop this?

There are plenty of social collaboration tools, like Microsoft SharePoint, that can help reduce the pains and limitations associated with email and personal drives. It’s up to the organization, though, to truly use the technology and move common activities from traditional methods like email over to more structured ones. Here are some ways social collaboration tools can eliminate some of the issues we talked about earlier:

  • Making and Tracking Decisions – There are SharePoint apps available that enable organizations to track meetings internally now, while providing a full history of all discussions, decisions, and actions taken, ensuring no one is left in the dark.
  • Announcements – SharePoint has a Publishing Pages functionality that you can integrate with your Intranet, allowing you to post announcements to the homepage. There is also an ability to enable discussion for each announcement, so the need for sending out announcements via email is eliminated, while adding in an element of interaction where employees can react to announcements company-wide.
  • Seeking Answers/Feedback – SharePoint allows you to set up Communities relevant to different sections of your company. Employees can now go to these Communities for each specific questions they have, and are able to see if there is existing information regarding their inquiry. These Communities ensure that the correct people see, and are able to answer, any questions that arise.
  • Personal Drives – Employees can upload their documents to SharePoint, either into public Lists and Libraries or into their own personal SkyDrives. This enables greater access to documents when trying to collaborate with colleagues, as multiple people can access a document at once with the ability to see the most recent version in real time.

As organizations continue to adopt and implement collaboration platforms, processes and “the old way” of doing things will constantly change. When it comes to enterprise collaboration, I believe email and personal drives are a thing of the past. Organizations should prepare to adopt new ways of doing things to enable collaboration with confidence.