Juggling e-mail overload Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002

It’s estimated that in the year 2000, 600 billion e-mail messages will be sent.

From the woeful cries of many executives with whom I have worked, the e-mail deluge is already upon them. The volume is compounded by the electronic trail left by e-mail that is hard to control or erase. (Remember the Netscape/Microsoft e-mail that trailed Bill Gates through court.) The news is full of stories regarding legal issues surrounding the use of e-mail on company time.

Properly used e-mail is both efficient and effective. Its use as a tool to fine tune a meeting agenda, rewrite a news article, spread good news and decrease paper use is unequaled. The ability to write e-mail that is read and retained is an executive requirement in this age. Properly supervising its corporate use is a business necessity.

A study conducted for Elron Software by NFO Worldwide revealed:

  • 85 percent of workers use company e-mail to send and receive personal messages.

  • 56 percent of employees who have access to the Internet say they receive e-mail that is sexist, racist or of an inappropriate religious nature.

  • One in 10 receives e-mail that contains confidential company information.

This overuse and abuse has caused many companies to implement e-mail policies. Legal issues arise between employees — who may regard it as a private correspondence — and employers, who wish to monitor e-mail as a safeguard against litigation or e-mail boomerangs.

A friend at an information services firm says internal e-mail with jokes and attachments reached such a volume at her firm that the server went down. The company trained its employees not to write anything in e-mail that they would not say in public and installed software to scan messages for attachments.

A policy such as this may initially meet with tremendous employee resentment and needs to be handled carefully. Company cultures vary greatly. Working with an employee task force can resolve issues before they become problems.

Set your own parameters for handling the e-mail deluge. Guidelines include:

  • The fewer e-mails you send, the fewer you receive.

  • Limit the number of FYI or CC e-mails. If you would not write and post mail this information, do you really need to e-mail it?

  • Delete e-mail from unknown senders. Your system may automatically respond with a statement saying you deleted, if in error please call ...

  • Use an informative title to communicate the subject. Ask your employees to do the same.

  • Schedule time to handle e-mail, as you do with phone calls or paper. Think of the delete key as you do the trash can ... the best way to get rid of clutter.

Adding an avalanche of e-mails to your workload of papers, voice mails, faxes and pages can seem an insurmountable task. Working to eliminate and organize today will help you tomorrow.

Chris Perrow, of Perrow Organizational Systems, designs organizational systems that fit the nature of the individual, department or company, helping people to perform at their peak while maintaining order and flow. She may be reached at (330) 686-0282, cperrow@aol.com or www.organizingSOS.com.