I once worked on a research project that required me to send emails to my boss several times a day. Many led to extended discussions about the content, and suddenly my boss and I had five conversations going on simultaneously. More than once I had to resend an email because it got lost in the flood. I calculated that we exchanged an average of 60 emails a day during that project.
Even during email lulls, it wouldn’t be uncommon for us to exchange at least twenty emails a day. The company only had five employees, and this was representative of how we all interacted with our boss.
That meant my boss would exchange approximately 100 internal emails on any given day. I would not have been surprised to discover that our office exchanged several hundred internal emails daily.
I recently read an article (registration required) in the Financial Times that looked at how several companies are approaching this problem. In it, Monica Seeley, an email management expert at Mesmo, mentioned that companies are losing up to 20 days per person per year dealing with email. Most people receive over 100 emails a day and they feel pressured to answer them quickly, she added.
Case in point, I’ve been writing for ten minutes and I’ve already been distracted twice by two emails that I ended up deleting (not internal emails, these were newsletters). When the alert pops up, I feel the urge to stop what I’m doing and check out this new communication. Now I’ve just broken my concentration and I’ve delayed my work by at least two minutes, not including the time it takes me to refocus.
It doesn’t seem like a lot, but that adds up.
Another problem I have with email is that my MS Outlook workflow rules are ineffective at best. I prefer to automatically sort my email, so I set up folders and filters by topic and sender. All the emails still go to my inbox though, and I end up wasting half an hour each Friday manually sorting my email into the appropriate folders.
It’s not likely that we’ll ever get rid of email entirely; we still need it to communicate with people outside the company. But would it be so bad to cut down on inbox clutter? Plus, wouldn’t it be nice to have an entire conversation in one place, where you can access it at any time?
Indeed, a lot of companies are experimenting with solutions to the internal email clog. So we decided to see if we could create a Conxport application that acts as a reliable internal email replacement.
Short answer: we absolutely can.
If you read this blog you know that Conxport is used a lot for things like sponsorship and grant management. It is great for that, but we designed it so that it could be used for a wide variety of business processes. We’ve accomplished a lot by building the right forms and using the right combination of tools to make sure everyone always has convenient access to their messages.
As an example, one of our developers is a genius with programming but has long struggled with the administrative side of his job. We set up a task management application and his completion rate for administrative tasks shot through the roof. Each form identified who created the task, what it relates to, and a variety of other information to give a complete picture. We use statuses to track the progress of each task. If the developer needs one of us to help him with a task, he can easily share it with us using the share tool, and we can keep a continuous conversation going using the built-in comments.
Below are a few tips for setting up a Conxport application that effectively replaces email.
First, you need to create a form that identifies each piece of relevant information so that sorting messages is easy. You want to identify things like author, recipient, topic, what the message relates to, potential deadlines, and other key data points. You can create dynamic forms that adapt to the message being conveyed so that you never collect useless or redundant information, but you still get everything you need.
The next step is setting up universal filters to ensure that each recipient has access to all of their messages. You’ll also want to define user roles and permissions to restrict each user’s access to only messages that pertain to them. When necessary, each user can easily share individual messages with their colleagues in the application.
Then you’ll want to define the status system. Statuses can be anything you want, so it’s easy to identify every step of the process with statuses like “New,” “In Progress,” and “Completed.”
From there, users can create personal reports based on the any of the data points in the form. Create unlimited reports to sort your messages in any way you need. Reports can sort based on one condition, like Author, but they can also handle complex multi-condition rules, like sorting by author, topic, and deadline. Reports are also easily sharable with colleagues in the application.
Finally, use the built-in comments to keep the conversation going and the activity log to see every action performed on a message since it was created.
So what do you think? Do you like email or do you think there are better ways to communicate within an organization? Would you pay to have a reliable alternative to email?