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Can companies live without email?

It’s Monday morning. You have just come back from your week-long holiday and sat down at your desk to find 500 new emails.

For the next few days you will be inundated with repeated communications asking why you haven’t dealt with the earlier emails, requests for your time (for when you were on holiday, of course), requests for things that someone else should have picked up in your absence and a whole bunch of emails that have absolutely no relevance to you.

Sound familiar?

Research a few years ago found that on average staff spend 40% of their time on internal emails that add no business value: the equivalent of turning up to work on Monday and sitting with their feet up until Wednesday.

Or put another way:

Companies the world over are wasting 40% of every penny paid to their employees through lost productivity that can be attributed directly to a single, known source: email.

An overly-simplistic solution would be to get rid of email but is that actually possible? What would corporate communication look like if there was no email?

Instant Messaging

The obvious choice would be a switch to instant messaging tools like Skype for Business and Slack. These are already installed in many corporate environments and provide an SMS-like experience where you have instant communication with one or more individuals all from the comfort of your desktop, mobile, tablet or whatever.

This is a very interesting space and the familiarity we all have with messaging tools will allow any transition to be fairly smooth although for external customers or clients wanting to get in touch with the organization this is not a simple choice as these platforms often require logins making them less convenient than an email.


Video conferencing has been around for a number of years allowing us to launch a video call from our mobile phones in a toilet, bus station or anywhere that takes our fancy.

Numerous corporate solutions are available, including Skype and Slack but for many this isn’t the first thing they think of when making contact. Video is something that takes place after other sources of communication have been explored first, like lengthy email exchanges.

For external contact, as with instant messaging, customer logins present an inconvenience but video presents a greater issue in that someone needs to be present at the time of the contact: It’s not very useful having a video call with no one on the other end.

Internally, the majority of corporate communications can be dealt with by some form of instant messaging. The rest can be taken care of with phones and video but the real difficulty is external customer communications.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Instead of sending an email to and waiting for 24 working hours (yes, that’s a thing) you will be able to go to the company website and have a real-time conversation with an AI bot. We even have AI lawyers now.

At the moment the technology is in its infancy and responses from an AI conversation can be easily side-tracked and manipulated but the technology is improving all the time and will soon be indistinguishable from a real person on the other end.

Corporate internal communications will change, shifting from asynchronous and email-centric to synchronous and AI-infused instant-message-based with supplemental video and phone calls.

Email isn’t going anywhere soon: it’s too convenient and enmeshed in world communications for that to happen in a reasonable time frame. We will still be sending emails in 30 years’ time but they will be in the minority with AI-based messaging systems doing most of the talking.

So when you come back from holiday your AI assistant will let you know it has taken care of your messages and that you can spend your time more productively for a change.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Michael Docherty is an entrepreneur with over 20 years’ experience in the IT sector. He is the owner of Whitehirst, the company who developed Yakk, a real-time project management and collaboration tool that eliminates internal email.

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