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Email isn’t dead, yet.


On November 26, 2011, Jim Naughton of The Observer posted an article reacting to Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg’s declaration that email communication is a dying format. Three days later, an ABC News article, “Tech Firm Implements Employee ‘Zero Email’ Policy” seemed to validate Zuckerberg’s claim. As Naughton aptly observes, “The average employee now-adays receives something like 100 email messages a day and coping with that deluge has become one of the challenges of a working life.”

“Organisational addiction to email has long since passed the point of dysfunctionality and now borders on the pathological, with employees sending messages to colleagues in nearby cubicles, people covering their backs by cc-ing everyone else and managers carpet-bombing subordinates with attachments. The real problem, in other words, is not that email is dying but that it’s out of control.”

Naughton is right. Email as a form of communication is still very much alive in the business world. Records managers take note; Atos, the tech company profiled in the ABC News article, is not truly implementing a “zero email policy” as the title suggests, instead they are reevaluating how they approach internal email communications. In just six months, the company has reduced internal email communication by 20 percent. Atos will continue to use email to conduct business with clients.

The Utah State general retention schedules identify two core types of correspondence: policies and programs (permanent) and transitory(administrative need ends). One of the key challenges that records managers face is determining what information differentiates policies/program correspondence from transitory correspondence. Adopting a model similar to Atos may be a key to deciphering if an email is transitory or if it falls under policies/program correspondence. Determining appropriate content and audience is at the heart of Atos’ email policy.

Reducing the number of emails begins with understanding how email is being used by your entity. First, identify your entity’s core functions and relevant external stakeholders and then determine if email communication is necessary to support each of your core functions. Second, evaluate internal email usage. How many emails do you receive daily, how many are from a co-workers or a manager, and how many are from external stakeholders? Third, analyze email exchanges with co-workers; does the body of the email contain content that can be addressed in a person-to-person exchange? If you notice that a large body of daily email contains content about when to meet, where to meet, or addresses non-business related ideas- office parties, etc., consider alternative methods for communicating the information; email may not be the best approach.

Understanding how your agency or organization is using email internally may help decision-makers develop policies that reduce the number of emails created by the organization. At a minimum, this identification process will help agencies identify transitory correspondence.

Email communication received from external stakeholders, the public, or managerial staff may need additional consideration to determine the type of correspondence. Policy and program correspondence is defined under Utah general retention schedules as: “Business-related correspondence that provides unique information about agency functions, policies, procedures, or programs. These records document material discussions and decisions made regarding all agency interests.”

Records managers understand that a keep-everything policy is unwieldy and risky and that organizational by-in is necessary for developing a sound email management program. Collaboration with IT managers can help records managers identify internal email usage.  Together, records managers and IT managers can report on storage space dedicated to email retention and can conduct a storage cost analysis. Additionally, reports can analyze how much daily email traffic is internal or received from external sources. Knowing your agency’s core functions and the sources of incoming email communications can help agencies target an approach for managing email and reducing the amount of email generated on a daily basis.

Email isn’t dead, yet, but as we move towards an era of increased instant messaging, text messaging, and social media communication it will be even more important for records managers to understand how their agency is supporting core functions through communication mediums.

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References:

NGenius. (2008). Engy. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from http://gravityxx.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/internet-footprints/.

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