Solving E-mail Overload:

Email is strangling our organizations. Whose responsibility is it to solve the problem?

One study suggested that the average employee processes 180 messages each day. I maintain that the majority of employees have shifted their goals from getting the job done, to getting through the day’s e-mail.

While there are many ways to process e-mail more effectively using filters and auto-responders, better subject headings and clearer writing, or perhaps working longer hours in order to catch up, it is only a matter of time before our new found capacity to process these messages is exhausted.

Work grows to fill the space available.

Organizations around the world are all struggling with how to effectively use e-mail. Issues range from the stress of e-mail overload to archival and records management, not to mention a host of technical issues.

Corporations that have tried to solve the problem by using policy find resistance from the user community. The simple fact is that the majority of workers prefer electronic communication over other forms. And this communication has not only replaced business communications but social communications as well. E-mail has become the virtual water cooler and employees resent being restricted to using e-mail for business use exclusively.

People regard their in-box as their personal space. The emergence of e-mail as a globally accepted method of communicating is having a huge impact on our culture, just like the personal automobile gave us freedom to go where we want, our in-box gives us control over our information.

Regardless of the controls we place on our users, or lack thereof, the bottom line is that most organizations simply view e-mail as an easy to use technology that supplements the way we communicate. It is not viewed as a serious strategic business tool. As such we agree to spend just enough so that the technologists can create the infrastructure to support the flow of messages, but we allocate zero resources to figuring out how to use it efficiently and strategically. The end result is a technology that is killing our productivity and the burden of solving this problem is the sole responsibility of the end user.

Some organizations may argue that the users can take training to learn how to use their e-mail application more effectively, but the issue goes far beyond simple keyboarding skills.

Users are also expected to develop their own “best practices” that range from writing skills, to records management. A quick look at 90% of the desks in any company will tell you that the majority of employees are ill equipped to create and maintain effective filing systems let alone proper records management techniques to deal with corporate data. The condition of one’s desk is probably a good indication of the level of organization going on inside their computer.

What is required is a process that they can follow. This is not to say that employees are incapable of designing their own process, but with the demands on our time today, we often get caught in the trap of doing things to get them done Vs analyzing how we are doing things in order to improve the process. By giving your employees a starting point, they can become instantly effective and may go on to further optimize the process to suit their situation.

Many corporate e-mail systems provide an array of intelligent tools to help us deal with e-mail more effectively. They also provide us with alternate methods to communicating electronically, and these include information databases, discussion groups and public folders. But, once again it appears that learning how and more importantly, when to use these alternate methods, is the responsibility of the individual employee.

Some people believe that e-mail use is simple common sense. But this implies that the rules and best practices are commonly known, and I don’t believe they are. What is becoming more commonly known is that we have a problem that has gotten out of control.

What we need to do is create systems, and I don’t mean the technology infrastructure, but rather the combination of rules, best practices and processes necessary to support the type of work that we need to do. -W. Edwards Deming said "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing." I maintain that the majority of organizations don’t know what they are doing when it comes to electronic communication.

Whose responsibility is it to create systems and develop processes for electronic communication in your organization? If this has fallen on the desk of the end user, they need help.

What is your company doing to provide a way for your employees to focus on getting the job done, instead of just getting through the day’s e-mail?

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