According to a Gartner statistic cited at this weeks INBOX conference in San Jose, Calif., 75 percent of all knowledge assets exist in e-mail. E-mail is a corporate asset, goes the logic.
And a corporate liability, too, as Microsoft famously discovered. These days, you almost need an attorney on retainer to open your e-mail.
Remember how our love affair with e-mail began? Those innocent days of "youve got mail!" The strange music of the modem handshaking as it stepped down from 28.8 to 14.4 to the glacial 9600. The hypnotic pattern of the modem lights as they rhythmically pulled down the latest batch of messages.
Imagine awakening a la Rip Van Winkle in an INBOX session titled, "Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: Taming the Inbox." E-mail consultant Anthony Lye presents a series of increasingly blunt statements about corporate e-mail, anchored by this: E-mail is the property of companies, not individuals.
On its face, this is a true statement. Courts have consistently upheld the position, and HR makes it clear on Day One of a new job. Your bits is mine, the company says.
This fundamental precept shapes much of our e-mail sociology. Hierarchical e-mail patterns cement office relationships, with the order of addresses and placement in to: and cc: lines following intricate corporate pecking orders. Blind ccs are reserved—when allowed—for political gambits and managing up or laterally, more and more across corporate firewalls.
In the days before the BlackBerry, corporate e-mail was strictly a weekday affair. Now, that boundary is purely psychological—yes, you have the right to ignore your boss after hours, but can you really afford it?
The cudgel most often employed is: Im working at 3 a.m.; why arent you? Interestingly, these value-added e-mails often cross hierarchical lines, with a kind of virtual, conspiratorial wink that bypasses middle management. However, who knows who was blind-ccd.