This is the final installment in the “Click Here to Unsubscribe” series. In the last two issues, we looked at “Level 1 Solutions” that offered low-tech, easy-to-implement ideas for dealing with email overwhelm, as well as “Level 2 Solutions” which outlined strategies for using your email software more effectively. “Level 3 Solutions” explored in this issue rethink the need for email altogether. These solutions can be used for teams who work in the same physical location or for teams who work remotely across different offices, with increased accountability, enhanced transparency, and improved efficiency for all.
Internal Chat Applications and Team Spaces
Internal chat applications allow members within a team to share real-time information within a single virtual space. They have the information sharing benefits of email with the added functionality of an entire team being kept in the loop (without having to be Cc’d on different messages). Alternatively, team spaces provide an area for collaboration and documentation of a team’s project. It’s a single place for all of your team’s work.
HipChat (www.hipchat.com) is an internal chat application that’s gaining momentum. HipChat allows teams to organize information, topics, or categories into “rooms” for information to be shared quickly and easily. It aims to remove the need for email in team communication and increase a team’s momentum by reducing “reply-all wars and buried email messages”. HipChat also has video chat and screen-sharing capabilities, as well as integrations like polling and notifications. It’s available across a variety of platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux, as well as a web app.
Confluence (www.atlassian.com/confluence) is a team space that allows members to create documents, provide feedback (reducing the need for “track changes” or multiple versions of a file), centralize information that would normally be scattered in email, and organize everything so that it’s accessible to all team members. Confluence is designed for use with the chat application, HipChat, and the task management system, JIRA Core.
Slack (www.slack.com) is an example of an internal chat application and team space in one. Conversations are organized into team “channels” (specific to a project or a topic, for example). All members have a transparent view of the discussions within the channels. There are also private invite-only channels for sensitive information and private direct messaging from one member to another (similar to email but within Slack). Users can also upload documents (PDFs, image files, and spreadsheets) seamlessly, and connect files from outside services like GoogleDrive or Dropbox. Slack is available for use through a web browser or standalone app and it has free and paid options.
Task Management Systems
Task management systems are project management solutions that enable clear accountability, strategic prioritization, and increased transparency.
JIRA Core (www.atlassian.com/jira-core) is a task management system that allows a team to remain organized by outlining all tasks that need to be completed. The team leader assigns tasks to each team member’s “task board” and the individual then progresses through a clear, customized workflow for each task (eg: to do, in progress, under review, out for approval, complete, etc.). Team leaders can see what each team member is working on at any given time to better understand the progress of the entire project. Team members can also view the status of fellow team members’ tasks and communicate through the software. They can reference related tasks without having to provide context to the previous work because it’s all available at-a-glance. Lastly, one of the most powerful tools in JIRA Core is the ability to see visualized statistics about the project and measure the progress to date. JIRA Core is available for download or through a mobile app and it’s designed for use with HipChat, and the team space application, Confluence.
Adopting any of the “Level 3 Solutions” presented here takes confidence, perseverance, and a leader to champion the change. As with any significant change, it’s a good idea to pilot the project in a department for a week or two to ease the transition. Rethinking internal communication techniques requires constant monitoring and adapting your strategy, but the statistics about the inefficiencies of email are troubling enough for many to want to try something new.