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Point-Counterpoint: Will Email Ever Disappear From The Workplace?

Source | FastCompany : By Rich Bellis

Gmail announced last month that it now has over a billion monthly active users, a benchmark it passed while the rest of us have been busy debating the likelihood of email’s impending demise.

That isn’t to say the tool that so many of us rely on, tend religiously, and supposedly still don’t use properly is guaranteed to persist forever in the workplace.

In fact, messaging apps like Slack and a slew of others are working hard to make sure it doesn’t. Speaking to Co.Design last year, the platform’s design director Brandon Velestuk mused on a future time when “I could talk to my kids about it and say, ‘Well, there was this thing called email back in the day. I used it quite a lot . . . ’”

For now, though, even workers who use apps like Slack still use email a good deal, too. So Fast Company asked two leaders at the front lines of enterprise communication technology to weigh in on email’s future in the workplace. Here’s what they said.

IF, WHEN, AND WHOM

“People have been forecasting the death of email for the last 25 years,” says John Rae-Grant, lead product manager for Gmail, yet “there’s no sign that email usage is abating. It’s certainly changing, but in the working world, email is still the baseline glue that pretty much carries everything.”

Manoj Chaudhary, CTO and VP of engineering at Loggly, a cloud-based log management platform, disagrees. “Email is for all practical purposes going to start diminishing at a very high rate in the next five to seven years,” he says. “It’ll still live in the financial world and whatnot, but all the early adopters and the tech-savvy companies,” in his view, are already beginning to embrace alternatives.

At issue, among other things, is who email best serves—or even whether it serves some workers or industries better than others. In Chaudhary’s view, it’s a no-brainer for employees and teams for whom group messaging is just more efficient. “If you go a little bit up the chain,” he continues, where “the executives are involved and the turnaround time is okay to be later [and] they need to think about it and reply,” then that’s where email may hold out a while longer.

Rae-Grant, on the other hand, partly attributes email’s longevity to its being democratic: One platform may work better for one person or team than another, but email itself is just about as universal as a digital technology can get. “Anybody can set up an email service, and anybody can send email using another service,” he says, and they all work with one another pretty seamlessly.

“These SMTP protocols that were designed a long time ago [Gmail has] built on top of and strengthened . . . and really as a whole industry moved that thing forward—but,” he’s quick to emphasize, “on the huge basis of widely adopted standards.”

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