Email is the easiest way to communicate with people as we have been using it for decades, but it poses few challenges while when we start sharing or collaborating on documents through email.
Sharing document through email, crates multiple copies of document and if needs to be modified, then everyone has to wait for their turn to add their inputs and comments and in this process, multiple copies of document will be made and we will have no track which one is the updated one. Documents in email will be quickly outdated.
Also sharing a document over email is a security issue, as everyone can edit the document and they may end up sharing this document with others which can pose issues if the document contains confidential information. Security is irrelevant while sharing a document through email.
The struggles with email collaboration
- Dozens of emails from various team members, most featuring identical subject lines that make it difficult to weed out crucial responses from irrelevant ones, especially when conversations fork into multiple threads.
- It’s nearly impossible to maintain clarity about what needs to get done, and by whom.
- Poor version control: Just when you think the document is final, you find out two different people made extensive edits… to yesterday’s file. Keeping track of the most current version of an attached document is the modern-era’s needle in a haystack.
- Lack of transparency: It’s hard to track which pieces of information are still missing and where approvals stand.
- Limited reuse: The approved document’s final resting place is someone’s inbox, never to be shared again unless you specifically remember that someone proposed something similar last year.
- Group conversations grow unwieldy too quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, email is an incredibly useful tool, it’s just a misused one. Email is an effective means for communication, but when it comes to collaborating with your team on projects and getting work done, it’s a major hindrance to your team’s productivity. Therefore the question arises, is email a communication tool or a collaboration tool? Is there even a difference between communication and collaboration? While there is a myriad of definitions and well written explanations of the differences between communication and collaboration, my personal favorite comes from Anthony Bradley at Gartner Research. Anthony says that :
“Communication is the exchange of information to achieve a better understanding.”
“Collaboration is the exchange of information, and things, to advance the state of a collaborative product.”
Collaboration is different, even though communication and collaboration will seem like same, but they are not. Collaboration is a higher form of communication. That is to say that communication is required for collaboration but not all communication is collaboration. Also I like the following definition of collaboration from AIIM :
“Collaboration is a working practice whereby individuals work together to a common purpose to achieve business benefit.”
How a collaboration helps you
- Instead of endless email, team members can participate in discussion threads that efficiently summarize where various facets of the document stand.
- Document management: Everyone has access to the latest draft, and you can check the proposal document out of the system like a library book while you’re working on your piece, single source of truth.
- Searchable files: You can apply metadata or tag files to make them easy to find later. This means you can quickly locate the document after six month also.
- Security: Apply security policies to documents, so that only authorized personals have access to documents.
- Auditing: A well-established auditing policies can keep track of who and when the document was accessed, it is particularly useful in regulatory environments.
The closing remark, an ECM system with focus on collaboration can solve all of the above mentioned, and many more, issues and can effectively improve the productivity and quality of information being created and stored.
Send links to documents, which is stored in the ECM system rather than sending the document itself, it will store the change history, audit and managed and IP stays safely inside the firewall, seen only by authorized users.
 Click here to check out Anthony Bradley’s part 1 of 4-part blog about how email is anti-social (read other Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 here)
 What is Collaboration? http://www.aiim.org/What-is-Collaboration
Disclaimer: This post is inspired from an experience, where I was using a document to implement the taxonomy for a new BU in our ECM system. I received the document through email and I came to know that old version of the document was shared, as few more changes were made on the flight. This caused a lot of rework for us. Therefore I thought to document my observations and learning in this post. Thanks for reading.