These days there is widespread recognition that over reliance on email represents a significant drain on productivity for organisations. It is also a source of considerable frustration for individuals who see their inboxes swell with unread emails.
Unfortunately there is no magic pill which can reduce email in organisations. Changing the habits of users can take a long time and email use is particularly persistent. The formula for getting this to happen is a sustained effort in user education and change management, providing the right company policies on email usage and providing better alternatives to email.
Here’s are ten ideas which could help contribute to weaning your users off email.
1. Shock them with metrics
There are plenty of metrics found on the web which can show the extent to which time is wasted using email or the volume of emails sent. You can use these metrics for your anti-email propaganda but they will be more effective if you can derive some statistics and feedback for your own organisation.
For example these could include:
- Estimate of time spent on emails per user
- Average number of emails per user inbox
- Average number of unread emails per user
- Increase in overall email volume each quarter
- User satisfaction with email
Somewhere there should be some some shock statistics which demonstrate why things need to change.
2. Focus campaigns on getting users to actually try the alternatives
Traditional communications can be effective but work best when they are targeted to the needs of different groups and specific uses. Employees need to know how not using email is going to benefit them personally.
If a campaign focuses on encouraging use of an alternative channel (such as instant messaging or a social platform) then it should specifically aim to get users to dip their toe and try that new tool. That initial first step is an important hurdle to overcome.
3. Use an universal inbox
Some companies have enabled task functionality in the intranet or elsewhere to create an inbox for actions across different systems that would normally generate email notifications. For example this might include manager approvals for holiday from the HR system, for example.
This not only reduces emails but can generate a better response rate and add value to your intranet channel.
4. Get users to agree to a manifesto
Getting users to change old email habits is tricky. One way might to be to ask users to pledge allegiance to a manifesto of better email behaviour. Any “manifesto” needs to reference the wider benefits of not using email, not be too long and also be punchy.
A possible additional incentive for users to sign up the manifesto could be a charitable donation from the company to every user who makes the “email” pledge.
5. Restrict access to address lists
Sending unnecessary “all staff” emails is pretty near the top of the list of email sins. The collective cost and productivity drain caused by every employee opening an email asking if anybody speaks French or letting everyone know about departmental news is considerable. Most large and medium companies do not allow general access to the “all staff” email address. If you haven’t done this, restrict access as soon as possible.
6. Create a channels matrix for optimum use
Part of any change management effort has to be about letting users know about the alternatives to email for particular use cases. Making a channel matrix for users saying when to use an alternative channel such as the intranet, social network or instant messaging could be a useful tool. Use cases could include:
- Enterprise communications
- Department communications
- Non-business messages
- Expertise location
- Peer recognition
- Document sharing among teams
- Team Collaboration
- Current awareness
- Informal messaging
- Meeting agendas and minutes
7. Create templates to kill email
Social networks and collaboration platforms offer a far more efficient medium for collaboration than email. Designing site templates for specific uses which are often traditionally used for email such as meetings (distributing agenda and then minutes) encourages the use of the alternative. Guiding users with sites optimised for particular needs drives adoption, encourages the best use and weans users off email.
8. List “contact me” preferences on individual profiles
Email is usually a way to contact someone you don’t know but often actually instant messaging might be more appropriate. Consider adding a feature on user profiles in your internal employee directory which lists people’s preferences for how they want to be contacted, Of course the downside is you don’t want everybody to put “email only”
9. Wheel in the CEO
Getting the CEO and senior management involved in any email reduction campaign “Atos-style” shows the strategic importance of reducing email. Visible leadership participation in alternatives such as social networking helps to legitimise use of these alternative channels.
10. Make email reduction a KPI where necessary
If you are serious about email reduction then make it a specific aim for people in responsible positions either in charge of teams or in use cases such as internal communications. Having appropriate reporting and a specific KPI to reduce email then helps drive the actions required to reduce everybody’s inbox.
Any other ideas? (Don’t email them…)