The number of e-mails zapping around the world has multiplied five-fold since 2000. The research firm IDC estimates that each day computers send out 400 billion personal emails, 17 billion automated alerts and 40 billion spam messages. Companies around the world have begun to grapple with the problem of email overload. However, in this day and age emails are indispensable. This article tries to take a look at both sides of the email conundrum.
*Example 1:* Vanessa Fox, internet strategist for online property company Zillow, recently declared email bankruptcy and deleted all the mails in her inbox. The problem: She had run up an unmanageable “debt” of 30,000 unanswered emails.
*Example 2:* Two Friday’s back 150 engineers at the chipmaker Intel turned off their email systems for 24 hours, opting to talk to people by telephone instead.
*Example 3:* Deloitte & Touche, PBD Worldwide and Pennsylvania State University have all decided to “talk not type” for one day a week.
*Example 4:* UK IT managers are spending more than 5 million hours per year searching for lost emails, according to a survey. The wasted effort equates to more than Â£140m in staff costs, says the poll from e-Media, commissioned by email management specialist Mimecast.
These examples underscore the problem that businesses are facing due to excessive use of this technology. But there are other examples to show how using emails can help businesses.
*Example 1:* In the mid-90s advertising giant, Ogilvy & Mather, an expert at brand creation and management, found itself coming close to irrelevance because of lagging technical competencies. Outmoded, inefficient technology and associated processes meant that they were being squeezed by their competition. By tapping into available email and internet technologies the company improved the way they delivered core businesses and improved their relationships with customers whilst boosting their profits.
*Example 2:* Paragon Properties of Costa Rica, a real estate company operating Miami and Hands Across America, a health insurance company benefitted immensely from sales lead generation by email.
With increasing penetration and use of email and Internet technologies, it is time companies woke up to the need to have some kind of an email policy. While companies have to rely on emails as clients across the world have begun to prefer companies that employ e-business solutions and have a good sense of technology, they also have to tackle the downside of using this new technology. The only way companies can maximize the benefits of the technology while minimizing its cost is to have a conscious, well thought out and well articulated policy on the subject.
Appearance policy, succession policy, retention policy and now even an email policy? Well, an additional headache no doubt but having one and implementing it can reap rich dividends.
Some of the key elements of formulating such a policy could be:
* Try to make a detailed assessment of how and where emails can can be used to cut time and costs, improve sales, improve corporate communications both internally (company employees) and externally (company customers/vendors/potential recruits) and what is the level of email use now by different employees
* Through this assessment try to measure wherever possible and quantifiable costs and benefits arising from existing email use by employees. Try out to work out metrics by which employees can measure costs and benefits arising from continued use of emails as a communication tool (look for and set up simple metrics rather than complex ones)
* Based on the assessment lay down guidelines regarding email use by employees in different functions and levels. The assessment should help to identify who should be encouraged to rely more on email and who should be discouraged to use such emails and instead encouraged to rely more on direct contact (personal meetings/talk)
* For employees who have to be encouraged to use emails, lay down guidelines such as how soon incoming emails should be responded to, how often unanswered mails should be deleted, and how to measure results being achieved through email
* For emails dealing with standard functions such as sales lead generation, procurement communication, billing and payment communication etc lay down standard formats/templates to the extent possible – this reduces composing time, ensures functional effectiveness, avoids legal problems arising from carelessly written emails
* Consider outsourcing of the email function to specialists for certain areas such as sales lead generation – there are many in the market and it should be easy to find them
* Make sure employees who have to rely on non-standard emails for communication are aware of email etiquette and spam laws.
Just as new technologies can bring in immense benefits, they have their downside too. Since email use can lead to substantial benefits as well as waste of money, time and effort, having an email policy in place makes a lot of sense, especially for companies that rely a lot on emails.