Even if you're not ready to completely pull the plug on email and upgrade to a social-based collaboration tool or other alternative, there are ways to help your employees conquer their inboxes.
Here are suggestions for getting your company's email act together from productivity experts and companies that have done it:
1. Use what you've got more efficiently. Part of the reason email gets a bad rap is because employees aren't properly trained on how to use it, says Christina Randle, a workplace productivity expert who is president and CEO of Austin-based the Effectiveness Edge. "That's why the adoption rate is so low on things like SharePoint. People are spending tons of dollars [implementing] it, but not on how it could make your world easier," she says. To help, she encourages human resources or training departments to teach employees such skills as writing effective email messages, creating task lists and prioritizing their schedules to synch with the priorities of their departments or managers.
2. It's not about the tools. Supplementing email with a social collaboration app such as Yammer isn't going to improve productivity if companies don't help employees understand what communications medium is appropriate for any given situation. Before doing any kind of upgrade, Randle recommends mapping out policies and suggestions. "Whether it's Skype instant messaging, texting, Jive or Yammer, people still have to understand what the best practices are," she says. "If I'm sending out a broadcast message, is it on Yammer or SharePoint? Or if I have a message to my manager, should I IM him or email?"
3. Get buy-in from multiple departments. A team approach can eliminate the common disconnect that happens when IT is in charge of installing new software, but HR is responsible for training employees how to use it, Randle says.
4. Transformation takes time. If your company opts to supplement email with other communications tools, it won't happen overnight. It took public relations firm Weber Shandwick a year to turn on a social collaboration network based on software from Socialtext. That included time to investigate vendors, select one from several top candidates, negotiate an agreement, test the software, and prepare the company for the switch. It'll be another year before executive vice president and general manager Tim Fry expects to see results from the change. "It's no small endeavor, but very doable and something that many organizations are going to have to do if they're going to stay current and deal with information overload," he says.
5. Have a launch plan. If your company is adding a new communications tool, recruit company learning and communications experts to help spread the word. At Weber Shandwick, Fry directed the firm's learning and development team to pick "knowledge champions" in every department to participate in internal beta testing. "By the time we launch it, we already have a passionate group of users ready to advocate for the adoption in their local office," he says. The public relations firm's internal communications team also helped with the launch plan.
Michelle V. Rafter is a Workforce Management contributing editor based in Portland, Oregon. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org. .