To send or not to send, that is the question

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Nearly 12 months on from when Halton Housing Trust first announced our intention to switch off internal email how are things shaping up?

The first thing that has become clear is that many of us are addicted to using email, regardless of whether it is the right medium.  

The response has also reinforced this. The entire concept has been met with a heavy dose of scepticism.  Interestingly some of the most vocal resistance to change has been external rather than internal, despite the evidence rather than emotion supporting the business case for change.

So what has changed? 

The big headline message is that the number of internal emails has plummeted by over 40% in just 12 months. This is a staggering 30,000 fewer emails now being sent. The time saved is huge, both in time to type as well as read all these messages.

How has this change been achieved? 

An email charter which sets out 10 basic do’s and don’ts for email use.  This was subsequently had two other rules addedImage

ImagePublication of a monthly league table of the top 10 email senders and recipients. Noone wants to be on this!  It has also led to a couple of ‘interesting discussions’ with individuals who you would not expect to be on there when considering their role.

An in depth survey with a cross section of colleagues on how and why they use email. 

A clear shift in culture and leaders ‘typing the talk’ on email usage.  This includes my use of the following out of office message, as well as having the self-discipline to follow the words with actions:

Hi and thanks for your email.

As part of our approach to working efficiently and as a non urgent form of communication I am only checking emails early morning, lunchtime and at the end of each day.

Please be assured that I will respond to your email at these times.  However there may be a delay in responding.

For any urgent matters please contact me direct either by text, Twitter or phone.  

But it’s hard to resist dipping in. Why not try it for a a few days?

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So what have found out in the last year?  

  • The average employee spends 40% of their working week dealing with internal email that adds no value to the business
  • Staff spend between 2-5 hours handling emails each day 
  • Generation Y have all but ditched email, with only 11% using it out of choice.  The majority of Gen Y colleagues only ever use email when they start work because their employer requires them to 
  • Social networking is now more popular than email. 

Within the Trust our colleagues have told us:

  • 62% said emails were the least effective form of communication
  • 47% said they would look at a text and 35% would listen to a voicemail before any other form of message   
  • 57% of maintenance technicians said mobile phones are the most effective form of communication 
  • Email usage outside work is mainly for notifications and receipts rather than communication
  • Email is still the preferred option for communication within work.  However the main reasons cited for its use were for record keeping and ‘back covering’
  • Some emails are sent because they can’t get hold of people on the phone.  Others are sending emails to confirm they have sent a message via our housing IT systems whilst even more bizarrely some send an email to confirm they have left a voicemail!

What are the behavioural findings that need to be tackled?

Well these are a selection of what our research revealed

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 Where are we up to?

We are now looking at a range of collaborative working and communication options. These include using the new functionality in our existing SharePoint software as well as linking this with other software such as Yammer and Slack. 

We’re also identifying the requirements and what tools are needed for going forward and reviewing these against systems we already have.  Rather than adopting a broad brush approach we are looking at all of this against the specific requirements for each individual role, tailoring the tools to what people actually need.

What’s next?

By early 2014 we will have agreed our preferred options against the requirements we have.  We will then be rolling out our new approach from April 2014 as part of a pilot.  The pilot will be assessed in late June 2014 with a complete rollout of the solutions including the requirements for mobile working  by October 2014.

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This will enable us to then look at a switch off of internal email by the end of the year.  The only exceptions to this may be calendar invites and system generated notifications.

What have we learnt?

Hardly a shock but the biggest challenge is changing an engrained culture that has become embedded from 20+ years of people relying upon email in the workplace. Don’t underestimate the addiction we all have to email – breaking the habit and going cold turkey is much harder than you may at first imagine.  But the evidence of the over reliance upon email including how and why email is used and the benefits realised from changing its use are worth the pain. 

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There are some further thoughts on this as well as some challenges on going paperless on one of my latest Prezi’s: http://prezi.com/fpxoxsfcd4ay/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy 

6 thoughts on “To send or not to send, that is the question

  1. Cracking post, Nick. I must admit I do get frustrated by the raft of internal emails I receive each day – but do I send them myself? Guilty as charged! I’ve a feeling you’re the first of many organisations who will adopt this approach.

    • Thanks Andy and rest assured you’re not on your own!

      The benefit of the league table being published monthly is that noone wants to be listed there. It also provides a timely reminder to get people to think before pressing ‘send’

      More updates to follow as we move closer to the big switch off!

  2. Nice post Nick! As you know I’m a convert myself pushing a reduction in Email internally and externally. The key for me really is leading by example, which certainly can be challenging. One final thought – apologies for all of the Emails I’ve sent you directly – not helping your Email stats at all!

    • Cheers Brett and glad it struck a chord with a fellow email killer! Fully agree the key is leading by example. If others see you do it they then copy your behaviour.

      Also noted your attempts to get me into the top 10 email recipients league table too – nice try!!

  3. Fascinating read Nick. I really hope you pull this off because it will encourage me and others who suffer from the same distractions to build a business case for doing the same. I wonder if the move to mobile working will impact as people consider alternative ways of communication when they’re not in the office so much? Looking forward to the next installment thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Steve and glad you found it useful. We have a very clear and resourced plan to deliver this so hopefully we will provide you with the blueprint that you may be able to replicate?

      Interesting point you make about the shift in mindset as our people work increasingly flexibly (or arguably at the moment very flexibly!?). Certainly one to keep an eye on

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