The e-mail protocol is a platform. While all the instant messaging services are catered to everyone as a full package from the back to front, then e-mail is a common space of sending post, but everyone can choose their own service provider that provides the system that manages e-mail. This is another similarity to sending physical letters as the postal system is harmonized worldwide, but everyone can choose their own courier.
Therefore, while our daily social messaging cannot happen from Facebook Messenger to Signal for example, then a Hotmail user can still communicate with a Gmail user. That independence of service providers might be the first reason why instant messaging has not replaced the use of e-mail between organizations. Every company can set up their own user interface, security, and spam rules for incoming e-mail while being sure that the outwards going message is always delivered.
The other reason for the use of e-mail is probably the habit. Common courtesy and decency are traditional for business and it is the touch of professionalism that professionals want to see from a business partner. E-mail is the best way to have full editing control over the message with the possibility to add nice signatures. A beautifully composed letter is easy to read and increases credibility.
Also, well-composed e-mail conversations are very easy to find with modern interfaces. There is always the subject of the e-mail. This makes revisiting the older stuff much simpler. Good luck finding the right message from two years back from an instant messaging platform!
The fourth possible convenience of e-mail is that professionals might not trust keeping stuff in the cloud or exposing information to third-party apps. Organizations are and should be protective about their communications and data. After all, we are talking about business secrets.
The same good filtering feature of e-mail is causing problems though. It is making people too comfortable with e-mail and storing information in the inbox. Most of us have tried to find an old document from our inboxes. For professionals like lawyers, paralegals, founders, investors, and many more it is a daily struggle. “Where is the attachment? I hope I did not delete it. Is this the latest version?” - these are the possible common thoughts while searching for a document from your inbox. It would not be a problem if we download all attachments and properly folder every single one of them. But we do not, partly because we just do not have time in the heat of work and partly because of the comfort of knowing that the attachment is in the e-mail anyway and the inbox filter works well enough.
This is a problem where the use of e-mail exceeds its productivity potential. E-mail should not become a shared storage service because it is not very good at it. E-mail is for sending messages and sometimes some invoices (which might not be the best way as well). Sharing document drafts, files, and contracts into the wilderness of an e-mail inbox already reeks of inefficiency once such attachments need to be dealt with ASAP. The problem becomes even greater when an employee leaves and the e-mail attachments are not properly organized and shared.
On top of that, knowing that the attachment you might need in the future is always in your inbox history, hinders the possibility of ever clearing your inbox. However, during times where sustainability is key to our survival, at some point, we must pay attention to also minimizing the information we store. This brings the need for a new way of organizing the information we need for a longer period of time to be separate from daily unimportant ones.
For companies that reason picking e-mail over other applications because they are not comfortable with the cloud, then think again. Most businesses use third-party e-mail service interfaces. If you do not, then most of the ones you work with, do. These third parties will always have technical access to your e-mail information. Also, an e-mail going from Gmail to Hotmail brings not one, but two of such third parties into possession of your information. One might trust that Gmail and Hotmail will never maliciously use their position of control but it is important to note that Gmail and Hotmail are most certainly not built to be a vault for your sensitive business secrets and legal documents.
Moreover, the attempt to avoid the cloud needs state of the art team to keep it up. Otherwise, it would be an easy catch for hackers. The same happened with Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server described in this Wired article.
Definitely no. It is still a good tool for professional and global outreach in written communication. However, we should start thinking about the activities which are not best suited for e-mail like sharing important files and documents and working with legal transactions. Organizations could find crucial efficiency from working with documents in purpose-built virtual team spaces.