Email is a brilliant communications channel. But it gets mis-used. By people. We’ve all seen and experienced it. This post captures the experiences of one person’s email life and some solutions on how to change it.
by Guest Editor Emma Rodgers
Like many organisations we seem to be drowning in email. And sadly it just seems to be getting worse. We appear to work harder and harder, yet keeping on top of the daily email demands is no mean feat and, sometimes, it’s just nigh on impossible.
Our chief officer asked me to consider what we can collectively do to tackle it. We’re not the first to be tackling this and won’t be the last. Knowing how good the public sector is at sharing and how helpful Twitter peeps are, comms2point0 kindly put a call out so we could find out what others are doing. In summary, here’s what I’ve found.
It’s all about behaviour
1. Many of the issues with email come from us – the users and us using the tool badly. We’ve fallen into bad habits it seems and our actions just perpetuate these. We’re all guilty of it
2. As @whatsthepont said in one of a number of articles he wrote on tackling email backlogs: "emails don’t send emails, people do". It’s not about the technology but what we do with it.
3. Culture and email usage in organisations are intertwined
The status quo
1. Internal emails between colleagues are it seems the biggest culprits
2. People feel like it’s never been as bad as it is now
There are common problems and they drive everyone mad
1. Ambiguous emails that aren’t clear on what’s required
2. CC emails to the world and his wife
4. The smarty pants emails – I did this, aren’t I wonderful?
5. War and peace
6. Overreliance on email bringing about a loss of basic human skills – like speaking to each other
7. But I sent an email – the assumption that because you sent an email, your job has been done
8. Those thousands and thousands of emails saying just thank you. We like people being polite but seriously….
9. Holiday hell – coming back to 100s of emails and that sinking feeling thinking that you have to deal with them before you can start any of your real work
10. The more you answer, the more emails it generates
What’s working for others?
1. Slack seems to be doing it for many, including the LGIU and Rarely Impossible. Hear Rarely’s Radio 4 interview on how they’ve been using it.
2. Getting rid of emails completely – I really enjoyed hearing from Chief Executive Nick Atkin on how his organisation the Halton Housing Trust banned emails in 2014 for their 280 employees. Read about their approach in the Guardian, Nick’s blog and in Inside Housing. It’s interesting reading. And the stat that 40% of staff time is wasted on emails is simply staggering. Nick’s view is that it’s a no brainer to not tackle this issue especially when you consider the value for money it brings.
3. Holiday reprieves – deleting all your holiday emails with the view that the most important will find their way back up to the top. Oh just think of how that feels. It was one of the options discussed at commscamp in Birmingham and those who had done it said it was joyous.
4. 'No email' days or afternoons. Organisational agreement that for 12 or 24 hours you’ll not read, action or send emails. Paul Lancaster from Plan Digital UK got in touch to mention that his #NoEmailDay went viral a couple of years ago. His nine page manifesto gives a huge number of helpful hints and tips.
5. Email charters or agreeing values for email practice do help it seems. Whether they are a long term solution or not depends on the culture of the organisation and how it’s applied. Check out lifehackers’ top 10 do's and don’t's example. Nick Atkins’ blog mentioned above is also worth a look.
Who else has brought together good stuff?
· Dyfrig Williams covers the subject in the Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office
· @whatsthepoint in a series of posts that started with exasperation after coming back to a mountain of emails after the Christmas holiday
· Helen Reynolds and Ben Proctor have talked about the goods and ills of email in their Natteron podcast
· Stephen Waddington alongside others has predicted that email is slowly dying as organisations finally start to adopt social technologies and find smarter, multi-channel, ways to work.
· Learn more about Slack
I only looked in the UK but there are also great things happening further afield in the US, Germany and a number of other countries. Do check them out too.
What’s next for us?
We’ve been doing research at the council to see how many emails we send and receive. We’re looking at who are the top 100 users of emails (I’m embarrassed to say that I’m one) in the organisation and also which areas use them the most. We’re holding focus groups with employees and we’ll be using this and other ways to look at the best solutions for our organisation tailored to the specific cultural issues we face. I’ll keep you posted.
The funniest tweet
Finally I just had to share the funnies tweet I had on the subject when it was put out through comms2point0. It was this:
‘I have some ideas, I’ll email them over’
It was followed closely in second by this:
‘blew up PC (smoke and everything) by opening a pdf. Pen and paper for three days. Very cool.’
It’s been so helpful understanding that we’re not alone on this and learning from others about what has worked and what hasn’t. Thanks to the ace comms2point0, their brilliant community, commscamp 16 therapy session attendees and others on Twitter for all their help and for taking part in the debate. They include not exclusively:
@bridgetaherne; @emmyworthy; @ProfCopusLG; @DyfrigWilliams; @Cal44; @Philsfrolics; @PamelaWelsh; @AlbertFreeman; @NickAtkin_hht; @RarelyImpossible; @Rhammified; @giles75; @Plannna; @LenkaCoburn; @cwmaddix; @LordLancaster; @Stevecoleuk and @AdeCapon
Emma Rodgers is head of communications and marketing at Stoke-on-Trent City Council. She’s also vice chair of LGcommunications.
image via OSU Special Collections and Archive