TechRepublic Tutorial: Managing e-mail so communication doesn't suffer

Ensure that e-mail is effectively used in your organization.

With the explosive growth of e-mail, communication has in many ways become far simpler. However, this doesn’t mean that it has gotten any easier.

Excessive e-mail usage can actually impede communication. Only by taking steps to ensure effective e-mail management can you make sure your company’s lines of communication aren’t overloaded and your employees overwhelmed.
In the first article , we showed you how to reduce incoming e-mail volume. In this article, you’ll learn how companies are helping workers manage e-mail. In addition, we’ll provide tips on how to ensure your message receives the attention it deserves.
Remember your telephone
Forrester Research found that there are over 150 million inboxes worldwide. Eighty-eight percent of Internet users rank e-mail as their most frequent online activity. Although this popularity does enable more communication between individuals, at times it can also be counterproductive.

“We find with e-mail that we don’t talk as much,” said Debra Lund, director of public relations for the Franklin Covey Institute in Salt Lake City. That’s a cause for concern because, as Lund advises IT managers, “you can get more done in a conversation on the telephone, especially when there’s a lack of agreement.”

Several TechRepublic members sent in similar suggestions for e-mail management. Gshollingsworth agrees that e-mail shouldn’t substitute for a telephone conversation.

“When sending an e-mail, include enough information to prevent a conversation from starting. Conversations are for two-way real-time communications media. Sometimes you must make a phone call instead of [sending an] e-mail.”

Lund recommends that you avoid e-mail for all human resource issues. Instead, discuss HR matters face to face.

Companies deal with e-mail volume
TechRepublic members told us that in some cases, their employers are taking steps to deal with the increasing problem of excessive e-mail.

Trinidad is an IS specialist at a technical center for a major automaker in Torrance, CA, and he’s in charge of an effort to reduce e-mail volume. Trinidad recommended that alternative communication methods might be more efficient.

“Perhaps we can promote more file sharing on the network. I know people at our company send each other files back and forth. One person might modify a file and send it to someone. The recipient will also modify the file and send it back to the originator.”

Another reader, brichwine, described an approach that may not be as popular among employees. “At our company, we allow only 20 MB worth of e-mail per mailbox on Exchange. This forces our users to take responsibility and keep the inbox, deleted items, and sent items folders cleaned out. We utilize Personal Folders for storing messages if they need to be saved. That has saved us disk space on our server as well.”

Prioritize your e-mail
The increased amount of incoming e-mail can become very overwhelming. “You can feel so pressured,” says Lund, especially when some managers average as many as 95 to 100 e-mails a day.

Questions from her clients on e-mail have risen significantly over the past several years. Lund often tells them an important key in managing your inbox is deciding what matters most. She advises her clients to take 15 minutes before they begin the week and look at what’s due and when it’s due. That can help you manage your time and your online communications.

Resources for e-mail management
Mary Houten-Kemp, president of Internet Mail Services in Ipswich, MA, created the Web site Everything E-mail dedicated to the do's and don’ts of e-mail.

“Now it [e-mail] has such a global impact. Even your grandmother has an e-mail account to stay in touch,” said Houten-Kemp. One of her most effective suggestions is to reduce e-mail chores by using an autoresponder, a tool that lets senders know you have received their e-mails.

“E-mail has the unwritten rule that you’re expected to respond quickly,” said Houten-Kemp.

Sally Hambridge created an e-mail policy document for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Hambridge is the chair of the IETF’s Working Group on Responsible Use of the Network and with Intel Corporation in Santa Clara, CA. She says some companies have used the guide as part of a teaching course, and others have just printed it out for personal or employee use.

Sending e-mail that gets noticed
With so many messages competing for attention, there’s an increased risk that when you write an important e-mail, it may be ignored or deleted by the person who’s receiving it.

Here are a few tips for writing e-mail that won’t be lost in the shuffle.
  • If you include a signature, keep it short. Rule of thumb is no longer than four lines.
  • Write descriptive subject lines. Many people will open only messages with enticing storylines. For example, “update” doesn’t grab the recipient’s attention as much as “new information on the X merger.”
  • Use voting buttons. This works well if you are sending an e-mail that requires a quick yes, no, or I-don’t-know response. The voting buttons allow recipients to answer questions quickly. (This one was suggested by reader roger.lawrence.)

The exterminators
TechRepublic members sent us dozens of e-mails describing their favorite methods for organizing and exterminating e-mail. Here are a few of their ideas:
  • Jpfergus wrote: “If I have notes related to a subject for a meeting, I will print them off and delete them.”
  • Cisreal uses two different e-mail addresses, “one for public and one for business. I always use the public address when I need to supply an e-mail address on the Internet.”
  • Carrington recommends the BLOCK SENDER option: “Messages that I determine should be kept are saved immediately in a special folder or they are printed.”
  • Dwilson has found that using the Outlook 2000 rules can be extremely helpful: “Outlook Today lets me know if I have any unread messages in each folder, and depending on the folder they are in, I know whether they are urgent or can be read at a later time.”
  • Cputech found using the Inbox Assistant to be extremely helpful: “You can search for To, From, and Subject and delegate or categorize rather accurately the majority of the e-mails.”
  • Roger.lawrence recommended using expiration dates: “Car lights on, birthday cake at 10:30; all of these general announcements to the company are set to expire after a certain time and are deleted.”
You’ve just received the third update on the NCAA college basketball tournament. Do you care who has the best bracket so far? What about joke e-mail? Should fun and games be eliminated, or is this a corporate culture killer?Post a comment below or suggest a new topic for a future article.

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