Emails were time consuming
My first job was an a trainee software developer at IFS, an ERP company headquartered in Sweden. Then if I wanted to share something with the office what I did was send an email to the whole office using the group address. If I needed to share with a selected group I had to manually add the email addresses and send them an email. Emails are not bad, but anyone who worked at an office for a considerable time will tell you that its not the most efficient way to communicate.
The biggest problem with email is time. If your email communication is with someone busy in the organization it might take hours or even days to get a reply. Although you can make your life easier by creating folders, adding tags etc. managing email is not an easy task. In a fast paces business environment where getting things done quickly is essential this can be a productivity killer.
Introduction of Office Only Chats like Lync
Then next advance in office communication was the introduction of office chats like Lync. Lync was a Microsoft product ( now renamed as Skype for office ) and it integrated with Microsoft Outlook and other Microsoft products. Because you needed a email address with a company domain to access the tool it ensured that its used strictly for business.
Although convenient because its connected to other Microsoft products Lync was basically a group chatting mechanism. You needed people to be online for it to be successful and if your team is spread across Sweden, Australia and USA then it became a bit difficult to maintain communication. It was a improvement over mails but still not enough to cater to a changing working environment.
Lync was probably the most popular commercially available product but there were plenty of internal messengers that cater to these needs. The problem was features like file sharing, searching etc. was not available in them and those things are essential when working.
Work + Social Network
With social networks becoming immensely popular the next natural step was to introduce an internal social network. The most popular example that comes to mind is Yammer. Yammer has file sharing, photo sharing, groups to separate communications and a whole lot more.
Plus Yammer offered a desktop application which was useful to get notification and quickly reply to questions etc. They also restricted the usage of the network by domain email address. One different was it was used only to maintain the integrity of the network. This enabled users to use the network from home and office without going through a corporate network.
Products like Slack took this even further by enabling real-time communication in their products. Plus they integrated with many other workplace tools and cloud storage services. This gave users even more flexibility and ability to use their favorite products in the workplaces.
The Future Workplace is About Flexibility
Popularity of products like Slack tells us that users love products that offers flexibility. Of course in a working environment too much flexibility can be harmful but withing certain limits its acceptable and in some cases necessary.
Distributed teams are becoming the norm rather than the exception so communication is becoming increasingly important for the success of any organization. And products that can enable productive communication will rule the future.