Noise /(noun): (a) any sound that is undesired or interferes with one’s hearing of something; (b) an unwanted signal or a disturbance; (c) irrelevant or meaningless data or output occurring along with desired information
It won’t come as any surprise to hear that trying to keep up with email traffic makes it difficult for people to achieve their goals. In this article we consider some practical steps as well as some smart automation to help reduce email noise. It’s not only the obvious time spent on reading, composing or responding to emails (which McKinsey research concluded is around 28% of the working week on average – see our article on email collaboration software) but, according to a report from Loughborough University the situation is made worse by the fact that…
…the mean recovery time from an email interruption is 64 seconds, so with an average of 87 emails a day, employees spend up to 90 minutes a day – or 7.5 hours a week recovering from email interruptions.
Additionally, not only does email activity have an obvious direct link to productivity through time management, employee welfare is also at stake. A report from UCI/Microsoft Research/MIT confirmed the relationship whereby increasing the time that people spend on workday email leads to higher stress levels.
In other words… cutting down on email time will also improve the health and wellbeing of employees.
Research by the Radicati Group predicts that email will continue to grow with over 4.25bn users and 333bn daily emails expected in 2022. With this being the case, what can be done to mitigate this pressure? How can available time be maximised allowing the focus to instead be on those priorities that generate value for the organisation? The various measures can be divided into two groups, first a series of practical steps, and second those that make use of smart automation.
Practical first steps to consider
Batchers, Consistents or a mix of the two? Is it better to cluster email use in two or three hour periods – to batch them, use email consistently throughout the day – a constant flow – or find a happy medium between the two?
Choosing which of the two is best, or somewhere between the two, will depend on an individual user’s preferences. However, given the time taken to recover from each email interruption it will probably be most beneficial to set aside blocks of time during the day to handle important emails.
In order to reduce the prominence of interruptions turn off email sound alerts and new email dialogue boxes. Each new notification, whether it be on a mobile device or desktop, will not fail to cause a distraction.
Alternatively, some email applications allow a user to adjust email application settings to check for new messages every, say, 45 minutes. Although not strictly “batching” it does encourage dealing with messages together rather than individually, reducing the daily cumulative interruption recovery time. The problem is that for some industries, such as maritime, this solution is simply not feasible as things happen fast and users cannot fly blind for so long.
There can be a tendency when using email to copy everyone in, regardless of whether they need to be involved. Sometimes this is done without thinking, sometimes deliberately. In order to generally reduce the volume of email throughout an organisation, consider the introduction of a policy whereby the use of email-to-all and reply-to-all is restricted, in other words, working on a need to know basis. Enforcing such a policy will require supervision. However, the use of departmental, or shared mailboxes (see below) may make it easier to ensure that a restricted number of people, i.e. only those who have an interest in the message content, are the only recipients.
Interruption time is made worse when the body of each message needs to be read in order to categorise its importance, to choose between an immediate or delayed response. To help users determine quickly whether or not an email needs urgent attention, set up the email application to display the subject of the email together with the first line or more of the message.
Finally, for a more direct way to reduce volumes, regularly review “graymail”, all those “unwanted” emails from companies or websites arriving as a result of opting-in to a subscription list. Unsubscribing from services no longer used will likely reduce email volumes significantly.
In an effort to reduce workplace stress some organisations have implemented a policy whereby the use of email is banned outside of normal working hours. Volkswagen configured its system to ensure emails are only received during the working day and half an hour each side of it, with none at weekends. A 2017 law in France requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. Such blanket policies however need to be carefully considered. In a newly published survey conducted by the University of Sussex, lead author Dr Emma Russell recommends organisations instead personalise work-email actions according to the different goals that different people value: “People need to deal with email in a way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel they are adequately managing their workload”. Strict policies on emails may well be harmful to employees by preventing them from doing so.
After that… some smart automation
Begin by investigating alternative email clients that have tools to handle higher volumes of email in a way that is designed to both free up time and reduce workplace stress.
The features to look out for come under the general heading of smart automation.
Such features can include message rules whereby emails containing pre-defined characteristics are dealt with as soon as they arrive in the inbox. One example may to be flag for specific employees in a shared mailbox all those incoming emails that contain the name a specific word, such as “Maersk”. Those messages containing that word might then be automatically filed in a separate folder, to be dealt with by a designated member of the team.
Another tool available is where messages are colour coded, similarly making the identification of those messages that need to be treated as a priority easy to recognise – for example, attention could be drawn to incoming messages from the bank by giving them a blue background as opposed to the default white.
The use of filters is yet another way to process email and organise it according to specific criteria. Examples might include filing those messages in which you are cc’d are filed in a separate folder; or filing those emails containing the word “password” in another; and keeping grey mail (e.g. newsletters) in separate, named folders.
Team email collaboration software is designed to handle high volumes of daily emails and allows team members to work together, improving productivity across organisations. Messages, files and information are made available to anyone who has been given permission to use them. Sharing an inbox allows everyone in the team to see what is going on. Work flows much more efficiently as teams work within the same system and poor collaboration and poor communication can be made a thing of the past, allowing colleagues to work together with clear priorities.
Being able to participate in a number of “departments” or shared mailboxes is made possible with email collaboration software. For example an employee may be included in Sales, Accounts and Customer Service, thus being able to send and receive emails in the name of each. If the same email is received into each of the three mailboxes this does not necessarily mean that email noise is made worse by a factor of three, it being possible to hide duplicated messages when setting up the software for each user. Another way such software can reduce noise is by allowing users to see who has “processed” an email. In other words, using the features that allow a team to improve the way it works together means interaction between team members trying to discover what each is doing is reduced. The result is that less messages need to move back and forth between them.
Read our article for a better insight into team email collaboration software and find out whether it might be of value to your organisation.
When looking at alternatives it is important to choose carefully: the solution should be intuitive, easy to use, easy to organise and allow synchronisation across different devices. When making a change it is also worth investigating sector specific software which will, at the same time, bring additional efficient ways of working and economies. CompassAir, for example when used in the maritime sector, is able to read incoming emails and automatically extract information such as vessel names and positions, shortlisting these and, if required, sending a special notification to specific individuals.
Changing any software within an organisation represents an investment not only in monetary terms, but also significantly in time and effort. It is therefore important to choose carefully and, at the appropriate time, you may find it useful to refer to our article on the hidden costs of switching software providers.
In conclusion, a number of steps can be taken, both practical and using smart tools, to relieve the pressure in an organisation that arises from the ever increasing use of email.
A few words about CompassAir
Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.
Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.
Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact email@example.com. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAir Shipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.