Old Collaboration Habits Die Hard: Why Folks Use E-mail Over SharePoint

Ann All
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Six Tips to Improve Collaboration

Six steps you can take to improve collaboration in your company.

Old habits, as we all know, die hard. This is especially true of ingrained business processes.


I suspect that's at least partly why most folks cling to e-mail, even though almost everyone can agree it falls short as a collaboration tool. I wrote about this several months ago, citing a study conducted by All Collaboration and Elearning Media Group that found cultural rather than technological shortcomings were seen as the biggest barrier to successful collaboration.


More proof of this is seen in a uSamp survey of business e-mail users commissioned by Mainsoft, a company whose products include tools designed to help companies derive value from Microsoft SharePoint, one of many collaboration solutions designed to reduce companies' reliance on e-mail. The survey found 83 percent of e-mail users prefer to e-mail documents back and forth, instead of uploading the document on a public folder, shared drive or workspace. More specific to SharePoint, 80 percent of e-mail users with SharePoint access continue to e-mail documents back and forth, instead of sending document links and using library services for check-in, check-out and version control.


Writing on the Distracted Enterprise blog, Mainsoft employee Jenna shares some of the reasons survey respondents cited for using e-mail: fastest option, mentioned by 76 percent; what they know best (44 percent); and all business contacts are in e-mail (36 percent). And the top three SharePoint dislikes: They don't know how to use it; It takes too long/is too cumbersome to use; It's difficult to find documents once they're uploaded.


Most of these reasons have to do with habit. E-mail being the quickest option is directly related to users' familiarity with it. No one likes to struggle through the steps of an unfamiliar process if they have another, better-known way of achieving the same result.


Readers chimed in with some great comments on Jenna's post. Writes Keith Suckling:

The whole intranet collaboration thing seems to be focused on what it can do-and it can do really cool things no doubt. Adoption isn't about it what it can do though. What I see in the resistance from others is that they are already flowing along quite strongly on a path (ie. Emailing attachments to 'collaborate'). Email replaced fax and snail mail because it became easier and faster than those options. Collaborative intra/internet tools will have to do the same thing. It must be possible though-look at the communication, sharing and 'collaboration' through Facebook and other social media tools.

While I think he's got a point about social technologies offering a more intuitive experience than enterprise collaboration tools like SharePoint, I wonder how many folks found e-mail easy to use before it became a ubiquitous tool. I suspect a good number of folks struggled with it initially but were motivated to keep trying because it made communication so much easier and more efficient than existing options.


Tim Smith shares his experiences with a deployment of Salesforce.com, noting it took nearly three years "to have Salesforce be embedded into the natural way of doing work." The organization stuck with it, he writes, because senior leaders drove the initiative. SharePoint likely won't garner similar executive support, he says:

... Does SharePoint fail to appeal to the highest levels of the organization? From my previous example, a half-hearted attempt to deploy Salesforce would have resulted in failure. But, in the executive's eyes, Salesforce had very tangible benefit (their almost real-time view of sales activity was a powerful and real benefit). SharePoint's benefits, from an executives view, may be perceived as diluted/intangible, as risky-therefore any deployment project would be left to the lower ranks of the organization-leaving the executive to play the role of potential critic or being indifferent about its success. SharePoint though, is one of those products that require a huge push to move the cultural norms. SharePoint might suffer from being in this 'no-mans land' between being critical enough to the executive, or being a simple enough addition to current working practices.

Earlier this year I shared some tips on how to get folks to use wikis, another collaboration tool. I think some of the suggestions could also be used to encourage people to use SharePoint. A couple I especially like:

  • Host a brainstorming session in which users are encouraged to suggest content that can be housed on wikis (SharePoint). This will help ensure information is useful and give users a sense of ownership.
  • Managers should perform regular quality checks to ensure information remains accessible and relevant to employees.
  • Host an event in which power users can discuss and demonstrate how they use wikis (SharePoint), spreading best practices and new ideas among different teams.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 1, 2010 5:45 PM Phil Simon Phil Simon  says:

To me, this is the key point:

Tim Smith shares his experiences with a deployment of Salesforce.com, noting it took nearly three years "to have Salesforce be embedded into the natural way of doing work." The organization stuck with it, he writes, because senior leaders drove the initiative.

I write about this in The New Small. Shameless plug, I know. Smaller companies are able to deploy these tools better because employees have no choice: they have to use them.

Dec 1, 2010 6:18 PM JB JB  says:

We've found that folks that have installed Newsgator SocialSites with SharePoint have reduced email volumes by up to 80%.  Interestingly, email tends to be used in those contexts to inspire recalcitrant social networkers to get involved by giving them a regular picture of all the activity happening over on the social net....

Dec 2, 2010 6:47 PM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says:

Not to be an ad, but Mainsoft and others do offer tools that integrate the two - email and Sharepoint. It's an interesting way to get people to use Sharepoint - and reap the benefits of it - without forcing them to change their work habits. See:Squeezing More from SharePoint with E-mail Integrationhttp://www.itbusinessedge.com/cm/community/features/interviews/blog/squeezing-more-from-sharepoint-with-e-mail-integration/?cs=44320

Dec 7, 2010 12:46 PM ECH ECH  says:

That's interesting thoughts. Though I also suspect that people can easily hide themselves in large organization by being swamped in a 1000 emails a day and therefore do not produce much more. They became email driven rather than todo list driven. While SharePoint clearly shows who is contributing and it is harder to pretend to have too much (mail) to do anymore! So why adopting a tool that will force you to work!

Dec 8, 2010 8:34 PM Conor Conor  says: in response to ECH

We also have a tool which works between SharePoint and Outlook to allow users to manage their emails and collaborate on project emails by tagging them with managed metadata to be stored within SharePoint. It means they can then search from within Outlook for emails and attachments without having to deal with the confusing search results within SharePoint Foundation. The search results can be easily refined from within Outlook. Instead of then forwarding on the emails they can then send links to the emails or their attachments location within SharePoint. Anyone who has used it loves how easy it is to use and user adoption is extremely high due to the simplicity of it. If you want more info there's some here: http://www.ers.ie/SP_ProjectTAG.html

Dec 17, 2010 10:05 AM Mark Mark  says:

We are using http://anurasoftware.com email solution to collobrate on emails in SharePoint. Basically our customers send emails directly into our SharePoint issue tracking list and we collobrate on issues in the list.

Dec 22, 2010 10:08 AM Nick Swan Nick Swan  says:

We've found that people who've deployed our forum solution for SharePoint, Social Squared, have found they can get the best of both worlds as they can add new topics and replies to the discussion forums from their normal email clients such as Outlook or their iPhone and the content is usable and discoverable in SharePoint.


As people are familiar with forums due to using them on the internet, getting them using them on SharePoint is also a good way of helping wider adoption of SharePoint.

Nov 14, 2012 8:30 PM Mark Vogt Mark Vogt  says:
Greetings all, Here's what 11+ years consulting/PM-ing almost exclusively in my beloved SharePoint has taught me: SharePoint adoption is NOT about learning the technology; look how UNintuitive Facebook and it's "wall" is, and yet over a billion people use it daily; SharePoint adoption is NOT about culture; I witnessed first-hand how "Email" took about 5 years - a seemingly long time - to become virtually ubiquitous; the culture could and DID switch over in a world-wide, age-wide wave quite quickly when you consider the PLANET's culture changed in that timeframe. cultures can and DO adopt new technologies and associated best practices quickly when the situation is right, so what is WRONG with SHAREPOINT - now more than 11 YEARS old? The problem is this: SharePoint was/is/will be a COLLABORATIVE technology, but it REFUSES to actually PERMIT collaboration between the 2 most populous parties in the the single most common collaboration scenario in existence: Company ABC working for Customer 123. And Customer 234, And Customer 456, etc etc etc. Microsoft wants MONEY for this - above & beyond what it's already charging for EMAIL, which already unites ANYONE ANYWHERE. SECURELY. Reply

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