‘They’re 25, they don’t do emails’: is instant chat replacing the inbox?


Could office emails go the way of the fax machine and the rolodex? They have not joined those workplace dinosaurs yet, but there were signs of evolutionary change at the annual gathering of business leaders in Davos this week, where tech bosses said emails were becoming outdated.

The chief executive of the IT firm Wipro, which employs 260,000 people worldwide, said about 10% of his staff “don’t even check one email per month” and that he used Instagram and LinkedIn to talk to staff.

“They’re 25, they don’t care. They don’t go on their emails, they go on Snapchat, they go on all these things,” said Thierry Delaporte. Anjali Sud, the chief executive of video platform Vimeo, said at the summit emails were “outdated”.

Delaporte’s comments, reported by the Daily Telegraph, referred to Gen Z professionals – typically people born after 1997 – but according to one UK business owner, it cuts across all generations.

“If I want something done quickly, I rarely rely on email myself,” says Farhad Divecha, owner and managing director of London-based digital marketing agency Accuracast. “I tend to send a [Microsoft] Teams message, or even WhatsApp if it’s really urgent. I might send an email with details, but over the past three to five years I’ve learned that email’s just not good enough if you want something done quickly.”

He adds that some clients with Gen Z employees preferred to bypass email, using alternatives such as the messaging service Slack. “It’s not uncommon to have clients with more Gen Z employees tell us: ‘let’s take the discussion on Slack because we tend not to use email much’,” he says.

Email has many rivals that offer messaging services. Instagram is used by more than 2 billion people a month, LinkedIn has 875 million members, Snapchat has more than 360 million daily users and 2 billion people are on WhatsApp. Microsoft’s Teams platform is also popular, with more than 270 million users.

But email is not going away and its use continues to grow. The total number of business and consumer emails sent and received each day will exceed 333bn in 2022, says the tech research firm Radicati, which represents a 4% increase on the previous year – and will grow to more than 390bn by 2026. More than half the world’s population, 4.2 billion, uses email, according to Radicati.

“We don’t feel email is dying,” says the research firm’s CEO, Sara Radicati. One major source of growth in email use comes from the consumer sphere, such as emails related to online purchases. Also, an email account is needed for all sorts of online activity, such as setting up social media accounts and buying goods.

Radicati acknowledges, nonetheless, that in the world of work, social media and instant messaging are playing a role alongside email. “Email tends to be used for official communications, while more interpersonal, casual communication is finding its way through social media and instant messaging”, she says.

Professionals who spoke to the Guardian described a mixed approach to email use. Jordan, 28, a project manager in the construction industry from Bristol, says there was a split between formal and informal communications at work: “I use emails purely to talk about formal things that need to be written down. That’s in terms of agreements or anything like that. But for anything that is remotely informal, I move straight over on to Teams.”

Tracy, 29, a scientific researcher from London, says she often checks her personal email “for keeping track of things like theatre tickets or other purchases”. At work, she has a separate email address “which I draft out and use very formally” but also uses instant messaging on Teams for quick checkups with colleagues. She adds that she “never” uses text or social media to contact colleagues in the workplace.

Gen Z workers who contacted the Guardian also said they used work emails regularly. “I generally check personal emails once a day and work emails regularly between 9 and 6,” says Matthew, 23, a human rights paralegal based in London. Meanwhile, Owen, 25, a programmer from Aberdeen, says: “Like any professional environment, my workplace uses email. Were I asked to check something like Instagram at work, I would expect some kind of wrongdoing was taking place.”

For one expert, the Davos comments reflect a constant of professional life: relentless technological and cultural change. Emails were frowned upon by the “telephone and letter” generation, says Thomas Robinson, senior lecturer at Bayes Business School in London. But a shift happened anyway.

“We can partner up with younger generations and add our experience to that, partner up with that community, or we can make enemies of the future. But thinking you can hold back techno-cultural change is for the birds,” he says.

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( With inputs from : )


TheNewsCaravan News Desk

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