Escaping email: An inspired vision or hallucination?
"Email can’t be killed completely because it’s the lowest common denominator in business," concedes Stewart Butterfield, who has been trying to sell companies on the merits of another alternative form of corporate communication called Slack. Like Moskovitz, Butterfield is better known for his involvement at another popular technology service: he co-founded Flickr, a photo-sharing site bought by Yahoo Inc. nine years ago.
Without providing specifics, Asana says millions of workers are using its system, primarily the free version. In many cases, Asana customers say they have reduced email usage by as much as 80 percent, according to Rosenstein.
"We are really reaching peak email," Rosenstein says. "Our customers keep asking: ‘Can you replace more and more of my email?’"
Rapidly growing startups such as Airbnb, Uber, Pinterest, Dropbox embraced Asana’s task-management system early in their corporate lives in hopes of avoiding email addiction as they mature.
And Asana isn’t alone in its quest to eradicate email. Other online services, built especially for business purposes by companies such as Jive Software and Microsoft’s Yammer, are on a similar mission.
Despite these efforts, email remains pervasive. For instance, Pinterest product manager Michael Yamartino says he still sifts through 200 to 300 emails each day, with 70 percent of the traffic coming from co-workers. Even after internal meetings, Pinterest still relies on mass emails to let everyone know what is going on.
"Asana is better for tracking tasks, but email still has an important place," Yamartino says.
Two of Asana’s own employees, Emily Kramer and Jim Renaud, wanted to prove it’s possible to survive without email so they vowed to avoid checking their company and personal inboxes for all of April.
It was the longest stretch that Kramer, 30, had gone without checking her email since she was in the sixth grade when she opened her first account on AOL. Renaud, 39, hadn’t lived without email since he enrolled in college 20 years ago.
Kramer stayed out of her email, even though she kept fretting about what she might miss at work and had to deal with complaints from friends about the inconvenience of finding other ways to keep her in the loop about a bachelorette party they were planning. She also found herself dealing with lengthier mobile messages that read like email.
"A co-worker had told me, ‘I think it would be easier to go without oxygen than email," Kramer says. "I definitely don’t think that’s true any longer."
Renaud didn’t avoid email the entire month.
Once, he needed to go into his Asana account to check on an issue affecting the company’s customers.
On another day, Renaud couldn’t resist opening his personal email to retrieve a $100 rebate on some tires that he bought for his car. When he clicked on an email link confirming the rebate, he was informed it would take six to eight weeks to get his money.
"I have learned that I don’t need to check my email all the time," Renaud says.