The Value of Real-Time Collaboration over Email


Have you ever “enjoyed” one of those long email strings? It always starts with one, deceptively simple idea. Someone sends this idea out to a list of people within the company. Nothing happens at first. It seems like the email will be forgotten.

Then it receives a “Reply to All.” Another person decides to add a thought or two. This is just a minor point, mind you, only something to consider briefly. Instead of one idea, the email becomes something like this:


  • Heading 1

  • Heading 2

  • Heading 3

  • And so on

But these initial additions lead to a number of chain reactions, stirring others to express the full extent of their thoughts. The idea takes shape as parties conduct analysis, breaking the matter down even farther. Soon, it looks like:


  • Heading 1

    • Possibility A

    • Possibility B

  • Heading 2

    • Possibility AA

    • Possibility BB

  • And so on

As the complexity of the idea expands, the efficiency of email as a communicative medium deteriorates. Every person attempts to make numerous comments with each email. Bruce develops Possibility A into two or three consequences, and he wants to express a disagreement with the way George introduced Heading 2.

Each time the “conversation” continues, there is waste.

It would be better to have a single conversation about this. Maybe someone could even draw out the ideas on a board to help the team isolate and develop one element at a time, as a group, giving everyone a chance to respond accordingly and build the IDEA into a real product.

But that is not how the string goes. Email is only a bunch of words – a story chopped into sentences and haphazardly rearranged. Nothing can be done with it. The results are worthless.

Collaboration in IT

Servers and Storage Area Networks (SANs) support real-time collaboration on an operational level. Let us say George is the marketing head, and Bruce is the lead on a new product. Without the ability to collaborate, George needs to understand the product before designing a marketing strategy. He might request documentation and then fill in his marketing materials, by hand.

With collaboration, the two can design the marketing strategy together. Either in a document, spreadsheet, or over a combination of file types, George can request information, which Bruce fills in directly. And Bruce, who needs input on how consumers will use the product, can ask George for input on how consumer segments will gain the most value from it.

In the most superficial way, the complex give-and-take between George and Bruce will be expressed directly through the materials they need to produce, as opposed to speaking and then engaging in parallel activities.

There is no long, useless string of emails. Every minute of time that would have been transferred to the creation of the email is instead diverted to real work output. Read our article about how SANs enable real-time collaboration for more info about how a SAN can result in even more productivity gains.