We've all suffered from overuse of the sometimes dreaded Reply All. As stated in this Microsoft Exchange Team Blog posting, Reply All usually starts out innocently, but can very quickly degenerate into a mess, requiring users to wade through dozens of messages to get at the meat of the original conversation. I've also seen Reply All used quite liberally when people's managers are copied on email message. Regardless of how it starts, the fact is that Reply All is quite frequently overused and often even abused to the point that people try to weasel their way off lists just to avoid the onslaught. Obviously, email remains the primary method by which people in organizations communicate with one another, so making sure that the medium stays useful is important. It's also obvious that a Reply All storm that gets heated can damage a company's reputation if the wrong people continually receive messages.
The Microsoft Exchange Team Blog posting that I linked to includes a full set of instructions for using Group Policy and a number of other existing tools to remove the Reply All functionality from specific user accounts. As the blog posting indicates, the users chosen for this action might be those that acted egregiously and created conditions that resulted in the flood of Reply Alls. From a technical perspective, the blog posting is a very interesting read and is actually a really cool exercise. It did, however, get me thinking about the use of technology in solving what is really a management problem. We run into this all the time where I work. There was a point in time when faculty could request that network jacks and nearby wireless service be disabled for a classroom so that students would focus on the classroom material rather than on using the Internet. Those days are, for us, gone as we no longer disable the network for this reason, with most people understanding that this is not a technology issue but is, in fact, a classroom management issue.
To be fair, the author of the blog posting understands this distinction and outlined the steps to disable Reply All only as a thought exercise, but the fact remains that many people will consider this - perhaps rightly - to be a valid solution to this management problem. After all, technology giveth so why can't technology taketh away when necessary? Let's not forget that there are plenty of completely valid and reasonable reasons to use Reply All, too.
Personally, while I think that the exercise itself is pretty neat, it's not step I would ever consider taking unless ordered to do so. These kinds of technology roadblocks can create a slippery slope and, pretty soon, the IT department has become the local police force, adding no value whatsoever to the business beyond restricting what people can and cannot do. When the issue is an HR issue, fix it with HR, not with IT. Obviously, it's not always that black and white, but when it is, for me, the choice is easy.
On the flip side of that, many IT departments already have one foot in the door when it comes to managing employee behavior. How many of you have systems in place that block access to adult sites or notify management when a user strays outside guidelines?
What are your thoughts? Should technological processes be put in place to ban a user from using Reply All? Should IT be in the business of controlling employee behavior? Take the poll below and use the column comments to provide your thoughts.
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Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.