Two simple tips to reduce email


For all the new developments in communications involving social media tools, email continues to be a daily burden for most information and knowledge-based roles. And mobile devices ensure we can access it (just about) anywhere. Here are two simple tips that could help significantly reduce the volume of email at work and free up time to go do something more interesting instead. (Brits of a certain age should start humming ‘Why don’t you..?’) Genuine spam emails… well that’s a whole other matter. But there really is no excuse for business spam draining productivity.

1. Change the channel

The first tip is technology-focused. Change the medium. Email is great for person-to-person questions and answers, and prompts that don’t require an instant response. If somebody is busy with something else, all email can wait. But at least it is stacked up in a neat digital pile waiting to be dealt with. But many communications do require an instant response and work is increasingly collaborative beyond two people. Relying on email for these scenarios creates unnecessary overheads and distractions.

Two channels can help reduce ineffective email: instant messaging and enterprise social networks.

Instant messaging trumps email when an instant response is needed. Presence status (online or offline) gives an immediate indication of the likelihood of getting a response – you only message with people who are currently online. This saves sending an email out to multiple people, only for all  but one to find out they didn’t need to bother reading it because the one had already provided a response. Instant messaging can also be used for 1:1 and group-based chats. Sessions can be recorded if the content has any value for non-participants to view on-demand later. But instant messaging is at its best for rapid real-time interactions. Answer the question, close the chat window and move on, no need to file the outcome.

Enterprise social networks (ESN) trump email for conversations involving more than two participants, providing an organised threaded conversation that new members can easily join and catch-up on what has already been said or shared.  ESNs can be updated in real-time like instant messaging, but can also pause whilst people get on with other matters, later returning to check on updates and comment if necessary. They can be tagged, making it easier to find and join discussions, and avoid duplicating the same conversation in multiple different silo’d groups, as can often happen when using email.

2. Change behaviour

The second tip is people-focused. Change habits. Whilst many people are quick to moan about how many unnecessary emails they receive at work, they are often as guilty as the next person for adding to the overload. Are people hitting ‘cc-all/reply-all’ because they think everyone needs to be informed of the response or because they want to be seen to be communicating? How many emails are sent out in bulk ‘for information purposes’. All of those should be up on an intranet, not bouncing around messaging networks. Use email for the exceptions, the alerts, the prods where action is required from that specific individual, the recipient of the email.

A simple rule of thumb – if people are setting up rules to automatically route incoming emails of a certain type to a certain folder, that email isn’t worth sending.

The quickest and easiest way to reduce email within an organisation is to start at the top, with management. If people are suffering from the ‘cover your arse’ syndrome that is cc-all/reply-all, that’s a management issue. If people are distributing out standard reports and updates where no action is required, that’s a management issue. And the excuse is always the same: ‘…it’s the way things are done around here’. So to change is simple. Get managers to stop doing it and others will soon follow.

And if you don’t believe me, a report has been produced by other consultants who have found exactly the same outcome and quantified the results. As reported in the Harvard Business Review last month. Targeting just the senior management team within an organisation, the goal was to cut their email output by 20% within four months. Within three months, total email output from the group had dropped by 54% and the ripple effects led to a 64% drop across all employees.

The report can be viewed online: To Reduce E-mail, Start at the Top – Harvard Business Review, September 2013

And for those Brits of a certain age, the rest of that tune…

Smashing up TVs, using knives unsupervised, preparing food without wearing gloves… how did we make it to adulthood 🙂

Flickr image: Checking Email kindly shared under Creative Commons by Brian Legate

Why move from Office to Google Docs?


The Boston Globe has reported that the city of Boston is moving from Microsoft software to Google Apps online, including transitioning from Exchange to Gmail for email and calendaring, from Microsoft Office to Google Docs, and from Windows file shares to Google Drive to storing documents. In short, all that will be left on the desktop will be the Microsoft Windows OS.

From the article:

It will cost Boston around $800,000 to move over to Gmail, Google Docs for word processing, and Google’s cloud service for storing documents. But by dropping some Microsoft products, the city government will save at least $280,000 a year.

“The number one reason that organizations are going to Google is price,” said Matt Cain, an analyst at the tech research firm Gartner Inc.

What’s more, Cain said, Google’s contract terms are much simpler than dealing with Microsoft.

It’s believed the transition will take a year. That doesn’t sound very long. Dropping Microsoft Office for Google Docs is a bold move and document conversion could prove challenging. I wonder what testing was completed to build the busines case for the switch.

“Anyone with a current Gmail account will not have much trouble transitioning,” said David Nero, director of technology for Boston.

Hmmm. A significant percentage of employees may already have personal Gmail accounts which certainly helps in terms of familiarity with Gmail’s user interface. But dropping Outlook and Office at work may come as a bit of a shock. And moving from having any on-premise Office suite to browser-based is unlikely to be that straightforward.

According to the article, Microsoft software was costing an estimated $100 per employee per year compared to approximately $50 per user per year for a Google Apps subscription. But that’s comparing on-premise software licensing with an online subscription. A similar level of savings would also have been achieved by switching to Office 365. Government pricing plans offered by Google and Microsoft are closely aligned for comparible features.

If the migration is predicted to cost $800,000 and will save $280,000 per year, it will take nearly 3 years for the project to break even. It would be interesting to have an update in 18 months time once the transition has been completed and operational for 6 months. If the decision really was primarily about price, it’s a bad one.

We moved from Exchange and Outlook to Gmail three years ago. We still have Office on the desktop. Some aspects of Google Docs knock the socks off of Office Web Apps. And vice versa… The decision of which is best to use should be based on the ways you work, not just the price.

One claim we certainly would agree with is that Google’s contract terms for cloud services are a lot more straightforward to deal with. Both as a customer and as a partner. Microsoft needs to get on top of that.

Disclaimer: Joining Dots Ltd has a paid subscription to both Google Apps for Business and Microsoft Office 365 for Enterprise. We continue to test and compare the features in each.