The Battle for Work/Business Communications

Central to any organization is communication. Email has sat at the center of business communication, and for good reason. In a recent survey, we ran, amongst everyone over the age of 30, email was considered the number one thing they associated with collaboration. Whether these same people are happy with email as a primary communications method is probably a different story.

While email is not going away, work chat solutions became a quicker, more real-time additional way to communicate than email. What has stood out to me in our research work on the tools and workflows of the modern enterprise is how little pure work-based chat has penetrated the workforce. Slack, for example, only showed up as a daily tool for 15% of our respondents. By contrast, Teams was a daily tool for 29% of respondents but Teams is used for more than just work based Chat so it isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison.

If comparing chat solutions to email, our study revealed email is still the dominant daily tool for communication. But the penetration of chat is one that sticks out in my mind and I wonder if a tipping point came, if that would impact email?

Another factor of our research that surprised me was how much simple smartphone texting was being used daily to communicate with teammates and colleagues. In our company texting, via iMessage is central, but I did not appreciate that was the case in many other companies, including large enterprises to the extent it actually is.

Nearly 50% of respondents in our study indicated they use iMessage or their Android texting app regularly to communicate with teammates and colleagues. If we add WhatsApp to that number, which can be done on a desktop but my gut is it is largely used on a mobile device, that number goes to above 60%.

I bring up using our smartphone messaging apps because understanding this as pervasive as it is highlighted there are three primary communications methods happing in the modern enterprise. Email, chat apps, and smartphone messaging/texting. In my opinion, this is a critical observation because of the common narrative that exists around email and chat but leaves out things like iMessage, WhatsApp, and Android text apps. One would think Slack and to a degree teams Chat, or maybe even GChat, is the evolution of communication when the reality is much more broad and holistic.

The main point I want to make is the research data tell us that work-based communications is no longer linear. The way we communicate to get our job done does not travel in a straight line. It may be with email, it may be with chat, or it may be with a mobile-first messaging app.

One thing I’m leaning toward believing is there is not going to be a “primary” communication method in the enterprise going forward. The context of the conversation, present location, and timeliness of response will dictate the necessary communication method used. This has become even more clear with a vast number of employees working from home and not having the luxury of walking down the hall to speak in-person to a colleague.

Communication for work has become a best tool for the moment workflow. This may seem chaotic, but it makes total sense in the context of information flow and timeliness of needs. Can this become more organized going forward? Yes. Is there more software/feature opportunity to optimize work-based communication? I believe so.

The COVID-19 pandemic that brought about a massive remote work awakening has given us an opportunity to truly see the role digital tools are empowering the modern workplace along with their challenges and opportunities. I’ve beat this drum, and many of you have heard it, that this is the inflection point for digital transformation but we still have a long road ahead. I’m as optimistic as ever new and better tools are coming to make collaborating remotely, and even in-person even better. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait too long.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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