Email Reduction Redux

Last week I wrote a post about reducing the reliance on email within the organization … I got quite a bit of feedback on that one and wanted to see if people out there would be interested in discussing more about what they are doing to combat the email inbox bloat that continues to happen. I figure since the post got a strong reaction and judging by some of the comments we are all beginning to notice that email is failing as a primary communications channel. As an aside I sat in a meeting yesterday morning listening to a guy talk about how he only checks his mail three times a day … WTF! “How do you get away with that,” I asked. He just said that email isn’t important and if people want an answer, “they’ll just have to call me.” Wow … I wouldn’t be able to that off … how about you?

I have also really started to think about what our array of tools should look like to support a collaboration platform that doesn’t rely solely on email. I asked the question of some friends last night that we discussed for quite some time — how long did it take us to convince each other, our bosses, family, friends, etc that email should be the way we communicate and do business? I am going to say the adoption curve for me was right around 2-3 years … now keep in mind when I got on email it was all new, shiny, and not many people knew what the hell I was talking about. But now email is the primary communication platform. What made the conversation interesting was that it pushed to the realization that it make take us 2-3 years to move an organization away from the email paradigm. It honestly stands to reason if you subscribe to the notion that culture takes three years to change.

So, long post about not much more than the original, but with a real set of questions that I would like to generate some discussion around … what should the tools be (both for an intranet and internet) to support an environment where email is minimized? What are the right kinds of strategies for making that transition happen in a compressed time frame? And finally, can we really expect to change the behavior of not only our own organizations, but other ones out there? Is email to embedded in what our organizational cultures have become? Thoughts?

6 thoughts on “Email Reduction Redux

  1. 15-25(?) years ago the only ways (arguably) to collaborate was meetings, telephone, email. Then there was usenet, bulletin boards, etc. With relatively few options, and a slower pace of change/life, we all slowly came to understand when it is/was we should use each (without much meta-conversation, thank heavens).

    Now the problem is, in my opinion, much more complicated. Should I engage this group or communication or collaboration (ad-hoc or otherwise) in a wiki centric effort? blog? Google docs/spreadsheets ? group chat? conference call? meeting?

    I think your question is a great one – and I think we will end up, as a group, heuristically developing the muscle memory to know which is right under which circumstances. So perhaps agreement can be struck as to what the right tools are, make them available, start using them and watch what happens.

    In thinking about this some more, it’s almost as if we need a tool cloud, where people use a tool to do something and if they find a new one, they add it to the cloud and others would get a chance to see its existence, usage, and choose to use it if they like. One of our big challenges is, for example, when is it OK to use Google for something when we aren’t clear about where the data needs to be from a legal standpoint? Should we use our own survey tool or jotform? I don’t want to get bogged down by those issues, but we do need to keep our eyes wide open as data location and ownership continue to live in murky waters.

    And to set the record straight – the goal is not simply reducing email by 50% in 3 years. That was a shock-line I threw out and throw out to get people’s attention. Many people in any given room have grown to dislike the volume of e-mail. You can get their enthusiastic attention if you relate what you’re talking to making their InBox smaller. The challenge (from my perspective) really is improved communication and collaboration for the purposes of making a group more agile, caring, and precise as they develop new services and improve older ones.

    Guess I rambled – maybe I should have put this on my wiki.

  2. I like the idea of the tool cloud. What I am seriously after is something along those lines — where there are tools waiting to support me. What I struggle with is the overall design and implementation of it all. One member of the ETS staff pointed us to this link on our Drupal powered Intranet site no less … a case study from Harvard Business School that exposes one of the most intelligently designed Intranet suite I have seen. It actually deserves a post of its own.

    So now that there is some agreement on a framework for success, how does one arrive at the right mix of tools, training, and opportunity to go for it?

  3. Something I need to clarify … and I better do this in a whole post soon. I am not saying we should stop using email, what I am suggesting that we find a way to use the right tools to support it as a communication channel. That’s really it.

  4. Email has become nearly useless. For weeks, since the latest surge of spam has trippled the sive of my inbox, I’m seething, and looking for alternatives to email or really useful ways to filter out the spam.

    We could, for example, rid ourselves of list mail if we can convince people to use RSS to receive announcements. To assist collaboration effort, the announcements could have additional data with appropriate and creative use of media.

    I use instant messaging – a lot. No doubt that reduced the (otherwise legitimate) pile of mail. Enterprise jabber IM, anyone? I know it’s been tried, but not heavily promoted.

    And Jesse James Garrett has a novel solution: If he doesn’t reply in a reasonable amount of time, and you really need that reply, he asks that you resend your note with his full name on the subject line. Mail with that subject line is easy to filter, and e forwards the filtered mail to another, more manageable account. It works like a charm, at least until the spammers’ databases store and relate user names.

    My goal: reduce email by 80% in one year; save it for when we really need it.

  5. I’m a little late to the game here, but I’ve been buried in e-mail… 🙂

    But seriously, I like the strategy in Kevin and Cole’s comments, as well as the tactics in Christian’s comment. To be specific, I think the communication tool suite should at least include e-mail, blog/discussion board, wiki, IM, RSS aggregators, phone/voicemail, Breeze, and of course F2F interaction (but not just “meetings”).

    In terms of moving the discussion forward, I think it the next step should be a three-fold process: First, I think we should brainstorm every possible communication tool that we might like to see in the suite. Second, I think we should categorize them into quadrants with synchronous vs. asynchronous on one axis and one-way vs. two-way on another axis (e.g., Breeze = synchronous, two-way; RSS aggregator = asynchronous, one-way; etc.). Third, I think we should work to identify the types of communication needs that fit best in each quadrant (e.g., brainstorming –> synchronous, two-way; administrative updates –> asynchronous, one-way; etc.) Again, I think this process would represent the first step in moving the discussion forward, both in terms of technologies as well as in terms of getting users more conscious about the communications needs they have and the tools they are using to meet those needs.

    So, that’s a lot at once. Did I take this too literally?

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