March sees Halton Housing Trust switching off internal email for all 280 employees. This is not some fad or publicity stunt as some respondents to the initial article in Inside Housing claimed. Others said we would never make it happen; we have!
The business case for switching off internal email is well documented in a whole series of articles, blogs, rules and research. It fits very well with the overall drive to increase value for money. Imagine if you could improve the effectiveness of your business by up to 40%. Well the good news is you potentially can.
The Trust has been on this journey for the last two years and I’ve outlined the reasons for change previously.
We found that employees can spend 40% of their working week dealing with internal email that adds no value to the business. Imagine if you did nothing of real value until Wednesday each week!
Email as a communications tool has not kept pace with the changing world. It was fine in 1990 when it started to become mainstream in many businesses. However, it hasn’t adapted to reflect how the majority of people now communicate with each other, especially outside the workplace.
We’ve taken quite some time to understand the reasons why people are using email. It doesn’t make for good reading.
Our in-depth research with colleagues told us they use email to:
- Chase/request information;
- Send information (which would include attachments);
- Ask someone to do a piece of work.
Statistically we found:
- Colleagues spent between 2-5 hours a day handling emails;
- 62% said email was the least effective way of communicating.
“It’s clear that email has become an overused and abused communication tool.”
Instead of being one of many ways to hold conversations email has become the default tool. Linked to this is that many people don’t recognise the signs of their addiction.
Don’t believe me? Well here are two tests you can try:
1. Switch off your email for two entire days. Don’t look at any on your phone, tablet or office based screens. See if you can actually go ‘cold turkey’ for 48 hours.
2. Imagine a situation whereby you come out of a meeting and you pick up your phone. There are four notifications flashing at you: a new voicemail, a new social media direct message, a new email and a new text message. Which do you open first?
The vast majority of people in this scenario open the text message.
So then, what do you do when you want to send someone an urgent message in your organisation? You send an email. Most people at this point smile and realise that email is not the panacea they think it is.
Most importantly this is about a change in culture and behaviour, not introducing some new software. We have spent time understanding the reasons why people over use email and then discussing with them what alternatives they would like to see in its place.
One of the most common questions I’m asked is how we cope in a post-email world? The answer is through a combination of the following:
- Colleagues are welcome to send tasks to each other, which they categorise as sending information, requesting information / updates or a request for work, which are all workflows. Each part of our business will have their own predetermined workflows for specific tasks.
- Managers are able to see their teams and departmental tasks at a glance.
- Lync and the usual Microsoft Office programmes are viewed from a personalised dashboard each colleague has on our newly created ‘Hub’. We are working to integrate the Microsoft Exchange calendar so that making, amending and responding to appointments will all happen via The Hub.
- Documents are uploaded into the Hub, enabling multiple individuals to work on version controlled tasks at the same time.
- The system enables sharing documents / information externally, with our partners and stakeholders.
- Each task can be accompanied by a discussion thread for context and updates.
These changes haven’t all been plain sailing – indeed far from it. This further proves how people are addicted to email and as such have an irrational response to ‘losing’ it. It’s not that people hate change, it’s that they hate having changes imposed upon them without involvement. We’ve worked hard to focus on culture and adoption, but despite providing more collaborative tools, and freeing-up people’s time, there has been some consternation. As I said, this is a journey, not an overnight transformation.
Photo credit: Paul Cross