Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Get off the Email Treadmill and Loose Weight Too!

Do you go to work to read email? Hopefully not, but how much time do you spend at the office reading mail - 20%, 30%, more? How much time do you spend looking for things other people sent you in your email? Is it possible that half your days are consumed this way? I’m trying to change these statistics for myself, particularly when I’m at the office. After all, what’s the point of commuting to work if we’re not going to interact with others in the real world?

I’m not against email or electronic collaboration. These tools are invaluable to my mobile work style, but I’ve been abusing email for too long and the consequences have become significant. I yell nasty things at my email client because I waste so much time looking for file attachments that seem to have disappeared altogether. I get even more frustrated just waiting for email searches to complete – usually without the results I’m seeking. Oh, and please don’t talk to me about “inbox full” messages. Grrrr!

Technology analysts earn lots of money advising big companies about how to manage these kinds of email problems. Some recommend trying to better understanding email usage behavior, categorizing identified patterns and then considering alternative methods, or technologies depending upon collaborative needs. Others suggest evaluating inbox contents and performing radical content hygiene – kind of like a deep dental roots cleansing. Ouch!

I’m sure there’s practical benefit to many of these approaches, but I’ve got a couple simple suggestions of my own you might want to try. Yes, one requires document management, or ECM software, but it’s not difficult to do. Here’s how it works. Stop sending email attachments and replace them with Web URL’s (links) instead. Some studies suggest that over 50% of all email storage is consumed by email attachments. Of course, you’ll want to get your co-workers, partners, etc. to do the same to get the full network benefit of this change. (OK – that’s the harder part).

How does this work? Most all ECM products offer support for WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning) which is an extension of HTTP. Basically, this means that any document or file stored within the application has its own unique address – one that you can share with others as a link. Better yet, WebDAV provides a host of collaboration tools, like version control that make it easy to work together with others on the same documents so that you can see each other’s changes, etc.

Some of the more sophisticated ECM solutions have developed email plug-ins that allow you to easily reference a stored document without even leaving your preferred email client. Xythos offers a good example of this type of integration whether you use a web or desktop mail package, or even shuttle back and forth between desktop’s and operating systems like I do.

The best of these email/ECM integrations will turn your old email attachment behaviors into automatic content publishing even if you select the paperclip or insert a photograph from iPhoto. That can be powerful. Not only is a big burden eliminated from email servers, but those files also become easier to categorize, search, re-use and even protect according to compliance policies. Oh, and did I mention that you can always change access rights to linked files that you've shared? Try doing that with an email attachment.

So, what was my other recommendation? Try limiting your use of email while at the office. I know there’s plenty of stuff we do that benefits from having an email record, but how many other times could we simply get up and walk across the office to discuss issues or ideas? How about an old-fashioned in-person meeting or lunch with clients where you can watch reactions that don’t always transmit through email? (OK – Light on the lunch or the title theme of this post won’t work).

Seriously, I still like email, but I refuse to use it to share files anymore. So please don’t try and send me any more email attachments. If you don’t have access to an ECM system of your own try www.xythosondemand.com. It’s free for 30 days and doesn’t cost much after that. I bet if you do co-workers will thank you for not filling up their in-boxes and maybe they’ll even walk over to your desk and say so!

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