Move Over Emily Post, a Big Man in the Mail Server

By the end of an average day I’ve reviewed almost 100 emails. I also contribute almost 40 emails into the problem. That means I get an average of one interruption every four minutes of the day (10 hours). According to some estimates this is below the average of 177 emails sent and received by the average corporate user. But as it is for me, I have a hard time keeping up with what I have. Then you when you consider the corporate and its requirements to maintain emails for all the employees of the company the problem becomes monumental. It is this problem that’s allowed an entire new product line to evolve to tackle the problem, of email archiving. And it is this problem that EMC prepares to tackle with it’s newly announced SourceOne product family.

But I’m not going to talk about the technology. Instead I want to put a flood light on the problem.

My Boss Is Reading My Emails?
To many it’s a shock when they hear that their employer is reading their emails. First thought that comes to the minds of most is where’s my privacy. What’s surprising is that while Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 to protect emails from being read by 3rd parties as illegal, a loophole allows employers that own the equipment that stores emails to read emails on their server. It is this loophole that has created the burden that requires companies to maintain emails. As they are now privy to the conversations they are also responsible for them and can be held liable. So what you say in a business context is important to business. So with this additional burden emails become corporate property and corporate assets.

The laws are still changing and depending on the view of the organizations, different types of content have different retention requirements. In some organizations all emails are kept. In others, only those that are to or from executives or are customer facing are kept. The rules are not yet consistent. The “next” lawsuit often changes what companies perceive as their retention requirements.

Emily Post’s Rolling in Her Grave
Adding to the problem of email archiving is that writing etiquette in the business world seems to have gone the way of the dodo. For some reason the only etiquette that stick on email is SHOUTING. The simple act of “all caps” will completely change the tone of your reply. But what about using some sanity in writing emails. Everyone has their pet peeves. Here’s some of mine and WHY they add to the archive problem.

Reply to All – Not
So it’s the cop out to start with this one. Every time I see any list of email etiquette this tops the list. Just because a message was sent to a group doesn’t means that you need to reply to the group? That one email suddenly spawns dozens of responses and most of them to people that really don’t need the answer. It also creates an email on every server for which members of the group have an account. As you send back a response that includes a large attachment that takes up space on every server (a good archive will eliminate the duplicates but not until it’s archived).

If someone asks a question by blasting to a group, they’re often the only one that needs the answer. If someone want’s the answer, expect them to reply to the individual with a request for the “best answer”. Of course the real thing to consider is a discussion area where these questions and answers can be kept for later requests. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the same question come across one month later. Then there goes my mobile phone indicating another email flood.

“Dude?” “Dude!” “Dude.”
Overhearing the above conversation, I go grab my surfboard. Let’s get it right, email is not instant messaging. Email is for complete thoughts. If you’re addicted to ridilin use Twitter. Every email adds traffic to the server. Those emails get processed through the different servers on the network, run through virus scans, and stored in an archive. There’s some simple tricks to clearing up the backlog.

The only thing worse than sending one email request for a help is following it up with a series to clarify. Remember back junior high English? Write in paragraphs of complete thoughts. Follow up TLA (Three Letter Acronyms) with their true meaning in parenthesis. And it goes for replies too. Unless your answer is the Rosetta stone, odds are your one line answer to a three paragraph email is not enough. Simple rule for each question mark odd are you need a single sentence.

Of course there’re scenarios where short, well, is acceptable. You don’t have the time to respond and the email has that exclamation point saying it’s urgent, then reply back with a short message saying you’re busy and won’t be able to get back to them until when. I think it’s incredibly considerate when people enable out of office when they’re busy for short times like a day. Another scenario is when you answer from a mobile device. No one expects a manifesto from a mobile device just make sure that you’re using a mobile device signature. And while we’re on the topic of signatures, if you ever think you might talk to a person again add your contact information to a signature file.

The Reply/ Forward Cop(y)out
Don’t be lazy be considerate. Every time you simply reply or forward you duplicate the content of the message and increase the size. This wastes not only space, but time. The longer the thread the more time someone needs to spend reading to get up to speed. After one or two reply cycles or each time a new person is added create a new email and summarize the conversation. Not only does this reduce email sizes it also clarifies the conversation. If you like, start with “From our previous thread …”. It tells people new to the conversation that previous emails exist if they want more detail. And NEVER simply forward a message to a superior or customer.

With customers, some conversations just need to be internal. By forwarding an internal thread outside the organization, even if no proprietary information is included, show no disregard for privacy. It’s like the old joke. “How do you make sure everyone hears a message? Telegraph, telephone, or tell-a-rep.” And forwarding to a superior well that just a CYA. By writing a new message it allows you to make sure you have your facts straight. If you’re in the right you do have you email thread as backup. It just allows the other guy a nice way to bow out of a confrontation.

You Gotta Love the South
I was trying to figure out how to close and then I overheard a Southern business man closing statement to a business partner:

“You got kids. I got kids. They do the same things. We’re not friends we’re business partners. I know I’m busy and I really hope you are too. I respect your time so I expect you to respect mine. So the faster we finish our conversation the faster I get home to my kids and you to yours.”

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