Why Email and Spreadsheets Rock (and Why So-Called Work Management Solutions Can Suck It)

May 18, 2016 Burt Younker

email spreadsheets

On May 11, I finally reached my boiling point.

That was the day I happened upon Robert Oscanyan's weblog posting "Disadvantages of Email and Spreadsheets." Given that Oscanyan works for Workfront, notorious purveyor of so-called "work management solutions," he was already highly suspect. But it's really his comments—in their shockingly glib shortsightedness— about email and spreadsheets that really got my blood boiling.

Convinced of their superiority on this point—and in the "spirit of healthy discourse"—Workfront has unwisely allowed me this weblog posting to rebut Oscanyan's comments. (And I'm sure this has nothing to do with promoting the upcoming webinar debate between Oscanyan and me) Without further ado, here are five reasons why email and spreadsheets rock, and work management solutions can suck it:

1. The ‘80s were the last great decade

email and spreadsheets Let's forget for a second that Oscanyan, judging by his youthful appearance, probably wasn't even alive during, much less remembers, the greatest decade this earth has ever seen. To attack the ‘80s in a sad attempt to discredit email and spreadsheets was his first—but not last— misstep.

I shouldn't even have to defend what is widely known as the last great decade. Of course, there are the obvious reasons:

  • Wham!
  • Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold
  • Twisted Sister
  • Michael Jackson was practically his own sovereign nation
  • Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and Rocky Balboa ended the Cold War

email and spreadsheets

But few people realize that the ‘80s also gave us some pretty indispensable technology when it comes to the workplace. The Year 1981, for instance, brought us the birth of MS-DOS, the CD-ROM came into the world in 1984, and Prozac was introduced to the world in 1988—all of which have proven indispensable in the workplace since their creations.

2. There's no better visibility than doing everything manually

New "cloud-based" gadgets claim to make it easier to see everything that's happening. Now, I don't know about you, but last time I checked, clouds make it harder to see, not easier. Am I right?

But seriously, maybe the reason why people feel like they can't see what they're working on is because too much of it is happening automated and hidden in the deep recesses of a tangled mass of computer code.

On the other hand, when people have to handle each step manually—like replying to an email by thoughtfully selecting each of the people who will receive your message and then tucking said email into just the right folder—they don't forget all that hard work. The same is true when you spend a couple days updating your part of your team's work tracking spreadsheet: it leaves an impression.

That, in my book, is the kind of visibility that stays with you.

3. Email and spreadsheets make us better

In Oscanyan's attack, he points out that "team members are spending a considerable amount of time looking through their emails or clicking through their spreadsheet tabs to find the information they need," which he then proceeds to paint in a negative light.

I don't disagree that email and spreadsheets make work harder for teams. In fact, I relish this idea, because hard work makes us better. Just as a muscle requires regular resistance to get stronger, work teams need things to be harder, not easier, to reach their full potential.

4. New solutions turn us into whiny, self-obsessed babies

One of Oscanyan's most laughable points is encapsulated in this quote from his posting:

"Unfortunately, those individuals are cheating themselves out of being recognized for the work they're doing and from a better work-life balance. Team leads and other stakeholders may see the end result of the work, but they can't see who completed the work, the effort that went into it, and who deserves praise."

Since when did the hard-working American laborer care about praise for doing a good job? Was the Hoover Dam carved out of solid rock to get recognition? Was it the promise of a cute little medal that pulled us out of the deep abyss of the Great Depression? I think not.

And I'm not so sure about "work management solutions" that cling so desperately to the need to recognize and praise people for every little thing they accomplish. It sounds less like "work management" and more like my kid's Tiny Tots soccer league.

5. Everyone uses email and spreadsheets

Chances are, 99% of you reading this right now have your email open on your browser or have a shortcut to a spreadsheet application on your desktop. You can see for yourself that these solutions aren't irrelevant. I may even venture that some of you are currently receiving requests and project updates right now in your inbox. You may currently be updating a project in your spreadsheet as you read this.

This alone is a vote, by the people, in favor of these venerable work tools. We the people choose email and spreadsheets. And we don't need some "work management" vendor to make us ashamed of that.

Stand Up For Email and Spreadsheets

If you, like me, have had it these high-tech johnny-come-latelys tearing down the time-tested work tools that we know work, I invite you to stand with me and my colleagues at the Center for Honoring Ancient Office Solutions in defending the value of spreadsheet and emails in managing work.

To support me as I take on Mr. Oscanyan in a live webinar, register today.

To learn more about why we need to protect email and spreadsheets, download our free ebook.

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