Controlling Internal Mail

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-02-22 Print this article Print

OK, so you all agree with me totally, but what does that mean for you as an organizational IT steward? It means its time for you to use the opening to boost internal productivity in all departments.
For all the promises of technology boosting productivity, we know how hard it has been to authentically deliver actual productivity at the desktop.
You can unleash the Unseen Hand on how time and attention is invested in a significant chunk of organizational time. How? By applying e-mail microcharges in your own internal e-mail system. E-mail is expensive when measured in the cost of peoples time. Every time a person interrupts work to open a redundant or even frivolous message, takes a misdirected or unsolicited commercial phone call, or talks with a random visitor, that person loses focus. DeMarco and Lister estimate it takes about 20 minutes to get back into an efficient work "zone" once derailed, and in my managerial experience Ive found it to be roughly the same. I suggest you impose a charge on each e-mail of a quarter of a cent per recipient, payable by the sender. While the sender could still choose to Copy All on all those marginal announcements, there would be a small incremental cost on each added recipient. If the average person sends messages to 120 people a day, it would cost about $1.80 per week, not enough to stop either valid business messages or selective mailing of some jokes to a handful of people. The employee may choose to invest some of her paycheck in forwarding a joke, but she may also choose a little carefully who she adds to the list. There will be an incremental downtick in mailings, recipients and time lost to communing with the message, and all that is to the good of the distractible minds that populate all big organizations. Moreover, even with purely business-oriented messages, many organizations have a culture that allows people to terraform each others inboxes with I-didnt-need-to-know-that plaque. That is another form of spam that could use winnowing. Some IT managers with personality disorders believe they can get the same beneficial productivity effect simply by banning all personal e-mail—a Draconian and destructive method. The ban undermines productivity by eroding morale, and it doesnt stop people from doing what the rule was enacted to stop: wasting time. Instead of forwarding joke mail, serious time-wasters hang out at the cooler and discuss their video game scores. If an organization has an employee whos wasting time, its managements job to help him focus. And if the only way a manager has to keep people from wasting time is to emit Stalinist edicts, she needs to learn either how to manage or how to hire. The leadership of Yahoo and AOL in launching the microcharge scheme has given you the chance to supercharge internal productivity by unleashing the Unseen Hand to give a firm slap to wasteful behaviors. Jeff Angus is a knowledge management and restructuring consultant. His newest book, "Management by Baseball: The Official Rules for Winning Management in Any Organization," comes out in May from HarperCollins. Jeffs columns have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Baltimore Sun. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.


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