Ah, the humble attachment. Such a simple way to share information; yet, in many instances, so flawed.

Is it ‘crime of the century’, to send an attachment via email? No, of course not. There are plenty of occasions when this is the right thing to do. As a one-off transaction, in which you need to send something to someone for their information, and you don’t need to work on that file together, then it’s just fine.

The real issue arises when there’s a need to collaborate on a file. The moment a colleague needs to update the attachment and send it back, you’re already on dangerous ground. And, the greater the number of actors and updates in this merry workflow, the easier it is to create more work than necessary, to fall out of the proverbial loop, and to cause mayhem and confusion. It’s like being involved in a game of football, in which someone has introduced two, maybe three balls. Several players end up thinking they’ve got the ball when, in fact, someone else has it.

Dodgy analogies aside, if a spreadsheet is what you really need, then consider using a software-as-a-service version of Excel (via Office 365), or Google Sheets – or try something like Zoho Sheet. That way, multiple contributors can work together to co-create and edit data in situ. Instead of trying to send the data all over the place, leave it where it is, and get everyone to huddle around it instead.

Perhaps you think a spreadsheet is the right tool but, in reality, there are better solutions for the job. If you’re simply using rows and columns to capture and sort data, but you’re not doing anything advanced in terms of formulae, pivot tables or charts, it’s likely that you don’t actually need a conventional spreadsheet. Instead, try one of the new breed of cloud collaboration platforms, such as Smartsheet or Podio. The gamechanger here, is that they eliminate the disconnect between where real work gets done, and where it gets talked about, so that doing and discussing happen in one and the same place. Communication and action become more closely linked, with the obvious benefits being greater efficiency, less stress and a single version of the truth.

If you’d like a real-world example of how we swapped spreadsheets for web forms and saved our Christmas lunch, check out this cheeky little parable here: http://www.ovalstudio.co.uk/blog/2015/12/17/how-podio-saved-our-christmas-lunch

Needless to say, it’s not just spreadsheets that fall foul of the email attachment malaise. The same is true for a variety of attachments, and there are remedies available in the form of generic online document editors (Word (Office 365), Google Docs), as well as task-specific platforms, such as those designed for proposal management and co-editing (Proposify, Quote Roller).

The take-away from all of this, comes down to collaboration. If you need to work together on something, instead of batting that something back and forth (rendering it obsolete the moment it leaves your inbox), take advantage of the huge range of SaaS tools and platforms, that have collaboration at the centre of things. In doing so, you’ll avoid duplication of effort, miscommunication and error, ultimately saving time and money.