Fighting the Email Monster
This is the third and concluding part of a 3 part series about the Email Monster. In part 1 and part 2 we saw how it eats into a company’s bottom line and top line respectively. In this last part, we cover the various approaches in which we try to deal with it. We’ll also see what is good and bad about each one of them.
Running Away from Email
A boss makes rules regarding how she could filter out a lot of email, and expect everyone around to know them. The rules are typically of this kind:
- “I do not see emails which mark me in cc (which means that I am not an addressee).”
- “I do not read emails that are longer than 4 lines.”
- “I do not check attachments.”
- “I rely on automated rules which separate out the important email for me. I read only that.”
While such kind of rules alleviate the boss from the responsibility of checking all email, she will typically trouble her juniors asking about the same subjects that are already covered well in an email. It works against their productivity anyways, and leaves the boss less informed.
Training to Manage Email
When employees complain of the productivity loss due to email, an easy option is to send these employees to email productivity training. There they are taught why one should have zero inbox, how to deal with emails immediately and how maintaining a few magical folders will transform their workday into a breeze!
Do these tips help? Yes, but they help only a tiny minority. The world by-and-large remains divided between people who do not need these tips and the people whose situation no amount of tips helps. The later lot sit through these training worrying how much more email their inbox would accummulate while they are sitting in the training.
However, organizing such trainings is convenient to the bosses. Now their trained employees do not have an excuse to complain. In case they do, then it’s easy to say that they are not acting on what they learnt. Isn’t it?
Email has been around for a few decades now, and a lot of attempts to improvise the email model have happened. These attempts are typically based on postulates of what is wrong with email. For examples, if long emails is imagined to be a problem, then one would create an email tool which restricts the size of email.
Some noteworthy additions to email include the group aliases, shared folders, spam filters, automatic sorting, subject-based sorting and a few others. Email has even been extended to communicate tasks and events. These add-ons deserve due credit in helping us manage the situation thus far. Without them, our workday would have been killed long ago.
However, let’s not forget that email was created originally for one-to-one communication and that’s what it is best at. Organizational communication was never on radar. There is a limit to which one can improve organizational communication process while still remaining within the confines of email model.
Changing the Paradigm
This is the holy grail. Various alternate models of communication are being tried. These models cater to niche segments of communication. For instance, there are task management tools, document repositories, knowledge management tools, team collaboration tools and so on — for solving different kinds of communication needs. Each one, in isolation, looks impressive — as a neat solution to handle the targeted type of business communication.
However, the niche focus itself is a problem. Each tool confines to its own target area and says “not my problem” to other areas of communication. There is overlap between tools in some areas, and some are left uncovered. As such, it is not practical for an organization to use six to seven different tools for communication. However, even if one does that, it would find its employees confused about which tool to use for what purpose.
Tools which offer a comprehensive communication model are the real key to solving the email problems. However, given how deep rooted email is, completely disregarding email as if it didn’t exist would not be right. A tool that can give a better model but yet somehow fits into the existing email ecosystem becomes easier to adopt and communicate with the external world.
Of course, getting the right tool is only the beginning. Its implementation and adoption are also needed to tame the email monster. With that done, the top line and bottom line improvements will automatically come!