Imagining a World without Email

This summer we acquired a summer student to help us devise modern solutions for our service inbox. Each day, the service inbox for our department receives dozens of emails on a variety of issues. Some requests are easily resolved, while others take days to answer. Some requests are urgent and time-consuming. These ones go straight to the top of the priority line, delaying others already in the queue. All this to say, it’s a big job to stay on top of all these emails, while also keeping up with other tasks.

The goal of the student is to identify our pain points and come up with options to address the challenges. To date, we’ve been through several rounds of interviews. It’s been illuminating to see all the problems distilled into colorful rows of electronic sticky notes on our virtual blackboard. The student uses big red dots to identify the most problematic ones. There are a lot of dots.

However, one thing of interest to me is that our student doesn’t even use email! Of course she uses it occasionally, but it’s not her primary mode of communication. The concept of existing without email seems foreign, yet attainable, when I start to think about better ways to manage our requests. One of my main goals is to eliminate email requests completely by using a ticketing system instead. This would require users to submit requests through a different kind of system that would allow us to track requests more effectively.

Another pain point is our current “tracking” system. We manually track everything by counting emails. It’s hideous, time-consuming, and not that accurate. We do this because the inbox doesn’t offer us a meaningful way to report on the emails.

One question our student posed during interviews required us to consider which emails had to remain as emails. After some thought, we came up with a few examples. This was mostly for communications we have with external parties, such as vendors, or professional organizations.

In discussing this further with a work colleague, also of the same generation as me, we started thinking about why we rely on email so much in our personal lives. I’m not proposing a ticketing system to manage my personal life, but maybe better alternatives are available.

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