Email mishaps are costly and underline the need for robust standards for email best practice, says Monica Seeley.
The recent outcry over claims that education secretary Michael Gove used a personal email account for government business has again highlighted the need for organisations to have a clear, well understood and accepted strategy for email best practice.
Whether or not Gove is breaching the law remains to be seen. But it would be interesting to know more about the Education Department's policy for using personal email accounts, and whether or not the department has evidence that Gove has read and agreed to it.
In 2004, Royal Bank of Scotland took an employee to court for a breach of its acceptable usage policy. The bank lost because the employee demonstrated he had neither seen nor agreed to the policy.
These emailgate-type disasters also demonstrate that email best practice is 80 per cent people- and processes-related and only 20 per cent technologically grounded.
You can have the best technology email infrastructure but if the people using it do not adhere to some basic principles of best practice, the technology investment is money down the drain.
Here is an outline of a seven-step process to develop and implement a strategy for reducing the risk of such emailgate-type disasters and reclaiming some of that lost productivity.
Identify the challenges for your specific business. For example, for a retail business, poor email etiquette might be costing it dearly. For public sector organisations, there is likely to be a heavy emphasis on compliance and security.
Forwarding and using a personal email account for business poses security risks. Before the advent of the Freedom of Information Act, when politicians used their own email accounts, breaches of security were always a major concern.
Review and check your acceptable usage policy. Make sure it is up to date and has been read and accepted by everyone from the CEO to the receptionist, and especially by part-time and temporary employees. This policy is your first and main line of defence when things go badly wrong.
After reviewing the challenges for your organisation, break them up into those that can be resolved by changing users' email behaviour and those where technology would help. Examples of using technology to help would be where you need to store and search large volumes of emails: a proper dedicated email archiving system is one solution.
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Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management and runs the Mesmo Consultancy. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, London, and has just written her third book, Brilliant Email, published by Pearson.