OK, now that the holiday season is over, let's do a quick straw poll: hands up everyone who was dreading opening their e-mail this morning? FYI both of my hands are raised! To be honest, any time I am forced to disconnect from my office communications (which in most cases means my wife has told me to put down my cell phone/laptop/tablet and pay her and the kids some attention) I instantly begin to fear that first day back to work and the requirement to review every thread I have missed.
Today, most of us live in a world where we are connected to the office 24-7 and there is an expectation to immediately respond to requests even if they arrive out-of-hours. Recently there have been a number of high-profile news items on companies looking for a way to alleviate the burden of 'Information Overload' on their workers. Both ATOS and Volkswagon have implemented mechanisms to reduce the amount of e-mail their staff have to deal with; ATOS are attempting to institute a 'zero inbox' policy while VW have agreed to switch off Blackberry services out-of-hours.
Personally, I'm not sure whether either of these are the correct approach to take - it seems the problem is being shifted from one platform to another e.g. e-mail to IM or message boards - but I do agree that there is an 'Information Overload' issue. There are a number of companies looking to solve this issue, for example Google's Priority Inbox, Meshin, MessageMind and Facebook's acquisition of MailRank. However, I believe that 'Information Overload' will only be solved by a change in user behavior. Some of my suggestions (note that I'm just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to misuse of e-mail so some of these are 'do as I say, not as I do):
- Do not send one-word or short sentance e-mail. That is what IM is for.
- Do not needlessly send mail to distribution groups or multiple CC'd recipients. You have a much better chance of response if you narrow the targets.
- If you have gone back and forth multiple times during a single thread, it is time to look at an alternative communication method e.g. pick up the phone or switch to IM.
- Please, for the love of (pick your favorite deity), remember to remove the distribution group from a thread that goes off-topic (thankfully most current mail clients allow you to 'ignore thread').
- If you wish to have an archive of a thread between multiple participants to refer to in the future, there are better platforms than e-mail to do this e.g. message boards or blogs (like this one).
In the past year, I have had multiple queries from customers looking to use tools such as MessageStats to better analyze the largest e-mail consumers in their organization, what is being sent and who the recipients are, so that they can make the case to the business to look at other collaborative platforms such as SharePoint and Lync. Incidentally, be on the lookout for other tools in this area to be announced by the MessageStats team later this year. In the meantime I would love to hear other opinions on how to combat 'Information Overload' from any of you out there so feel free to comment here or ping me directly. Here's one for starters: every employee gets a certain amount of e-mail credits to use per month after which they can no longer send mail until their account is refreshed i.e. bring the cell phone minutes concept to e-mail - this should make users think twice before hitting that send button
Happy New Year to everyone.