The wrong way to combat e-mail proliferation

Here's the true story of an executive who was fed up with too much corporate e-mail and the mistake he made trying to fight it.

Honk if this hasn’t happened to you. An e-mail message goes out addressed to “all employees” congratulating someone on a promotion. Then some knucklehead hits the “Reply All” button, and everyone in the company gets pinged just so they can read what the knucklehead wrote, which is usually something like “Way to go, dude!”

There’s absolutely no need to “reply to all” in that situation. That kind of worthless e-mail traffic wastes everyone’s valuable time and the company’s e-mail server resources. But how do you teach your users when it’s appropriate to reply to all? Here’s one approach that failed miserably.

Remove the Reply All option?
As the community editor for the SupportRepublic, I hear from a LOT of people who want to tell me what cool thing worked or what crazy thing didn’t work in their organizations. Recently, one of my TechRepublic colleagues told me this story and made me promise not to disclose the “real names” of the company and people involved.

The company’s CEO was upset at the amount of frivolous e-mail messages he was receiving. So he ordered his IT person to go to every single user machine and remove the Reply All option from the e-mail client.

Most users didn’t even notice the option was gone. But for those users who depend on the Reply All option, it was a nightmare. Teams who collaborate via e-mail love the Reply All option and can’t do without it. Users were forced to copy and paste e-mail addresses from cc and bcc fields, insert addresses manually, or pick addresses from a list.

The CEO’s plan had backfired. Obviously, there was less e-mail traffic, but the users who needed the Reply All option were wasting precious time addressing messages when they should have been getting back to work. Those users were angry. As you can imagine, many users begged the IT person to restore the Reply All option for them, or they figured out how to do it themselves.

Communicate an e-mail policy
If end users are misusing the company e-mail system—by replying to all too often or by forwarding spam and private messages—how do you change those behaviors? One thing’s for sure, you’re not going to change their behaviors by sending around an e-mail message!

My opinion is you need a written e-mail policy. That policy must lay down the ground rules by which you expect your end users to abide. The policy should address the question of private e-mail, when it’s appropriate to use the Reply All feature, what to do with inappropriate e-mail messages, and how to practice “safe e-mail” to avoid unleashing a virus.

Get your e-mail policy in place. Then have your head honcho stand in front of an all-company meeting and state in no uncertain terms, “You will abide by this e-mail policy.”
Have you figured out how to keep your users from misusing company e-mail? We want to hear from you. Please post a comment below or send us a note .

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