This upcoming Outlook feature sounds like a catastrophe waiting to happen

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Belozersky)

Microsoft is working on an update for Outlook that will bring email-based communication closer in line with interactions over instant messaging and social media apps.

As per an entry in the company’s product roadmap, Outlook users will soon be given a range of options for reacting to an email, beyond simply replying with a message of their own.

“Outlook on the web is expanding the existing ability to like email messages with a thumbs up icon. In addition to likes, users will be able to add sentiment for love, laughter, celebration, thanks or show sadness,” explained Microsoft.

The feature is currently under development, but is expected to land at some point in March, initially for the Outlook web app only.

Microsoft Outlook update

The informalization of email communication is reasonable in some respects, because email is used in personal and professional contexts alike, and business users can always just ignore the feature.

However, with the rise of instant messaging and social media, email has become much more of a business-first medium, especially for younger generations now entering the workplace.

With remote working already driving a wedge between co-workers, making communication more challenging and misunderstandings more likely, yet another way to distil meaning into a simplified format is surely the last thing we need.

The problem with the inability to communicate with someone face-to-face is that nuances related to tone, body language and facial expression are lost. Encouraging email users to use icons as a proxy for words will only add fuel to this fire.

It’s not that social media-style interactions have no place in business; they have become a defining feature of platforms such as Slack. But one of the main reasons collaboration tools haven’t killed off email, as some predicted they would, is that the inbox is the last bastion of purely functional and transactional communication. TechRadar Pro put these thoughts to Microsoft over email, but the company has not yet returned a response.

Some users will feel more strongly about the new Outlook reactions feature than others; perhaps it will be entirely harmless. However, the feature might also serve as a timely reminder of the unique selling point of email: it’s boring.

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.