Harvard Business Review poll reveals email is preferred collaboration tool

Need a collaboration tool? Try email

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Collaboration is one of the key principles of the open source way and a major topic here on opensource.com. One of our goals to highlight great collaboration stories, and when we discuss collaboration, the need for the perfect collaboration tool frequently comes up. One article, Avoid the tool trap when building communities, provides some great insights (hint: people create community, not tools).

Email is still undoubedly one of the most preferred tools out there for collaboration. In fact, collaboration on the the Linux kernel started with the famous email Linus Torvalds sent to a mailing list back in 1991.

Over the years, I have used many different collaboration tools both at work and outside of it. I have used multiple wikis, blogs, and social platforms. When I pause to think about it, I am amazed at the shear number of collaboration tools I have used. And of all these different tools, none has completely solved the collaboration problem. When I want to find a document, for example, I first have to think: "Which wiki is that document on?" What a collaboration mess.

Given all the effort we've put into coming up with new collaboration tools, I was shocked when I read in the Harvard Business Review an article titled, E-Mail: Not Dead, Evolving. As part of their survey, the authors ask: "What are the most effective channels for collaboration?" The top answers are:

  • 60% e-mail to individuals
  • 34% e-mail to lists
  • 23% e-mail to teams
  • 19% teleconference
  • 15% video/web conferencing
  • 6% business collaboration tools

Hooray for email! It is still the best collaboration tool. Nothing else is even close. This might be bad news for our good friend Paul Jones, who wrote about abandoning his email two years ago. Interestingly, this featured a poll asking our readers if they could live without email—and 77% responded "No."

After reading the HBR article, I thought about all the time and money organizations spend looking for the perfect collaboration tool. Consider all the cycles we could have saved if we would have chosen email as our preferred collaboration tool. Imagine how much better our email search/archiving/storage could be if we had spent on email the amount of energy that we have expended on new collaboration tools. I began to wonder:

  1. Is email actually a good collaboration tool, but we are always excited about a new shiny object?
  2. Or, is email actually a bad collaboration tool, but it is so entrenched that no other tool has been able to dislodge it over the past 20 years?

Here at opensource.com, email is our primary collaboration tool. We maintain an author email list, where we discuss ideas for new articles; a moderator email list, where we plan our editorial calendar; and a community mailing list for readers who want to be more involved with the site (consider joining it!). Over the years we we have adjusted our email list strategy, but it seems to be working pretty well overall.

One more fun fact from the Harvard Business Review article: email dissatisfaction was only 6%. Need to Collaborate? Start with an email.


About the author

Jeff Mackanic - Jeff Mackanic has been at Red Hat for more than nine years and is currently responsible for the creative services team at Red Hat. After several stints with varying levels of success at many e-commerce companies, Jeff became one of the original employees at Akopia, which delivered ecommerce solutions based on the Interchange platform. After Red Hat acquired Akopia, Jeff spent several years in Red Hat Consulting. Jeff has also worked in IT and marketing during his tenure at Red Hat.