Confession: My actions led to ‘Reply-All’ email cascades at work

Email was such a ubiquitous, entrenched habit at my former organization -- and I contributed to that problem. 

Email was such a ubiquitous, entrenched habit at my former organization -- and I contributed to that problem. 

Knowledge workers are sick of all of the emails they’re receiving at work. U.S. workers have an average 199 unread unopened emails in their inboxes, according to a recent study by project management software company Workfront.

This, too, was my reality before joining the Talk Social to Me team in February. [We use Workplace by Facebook as our primary means of communication. Organizations that adopt Workplace by Facebook see a reduction of emails by about 50 percent, according to Rebeca Tristan, Workplace by Facebook head of customer success.] My actions, admittedly, were a source of the problem. My last position with the USA Today Network was a regional coaching role, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to include employees in four geographically distinct locations in one email at a time. The idea behind many of these “metrics roundup” emails was to highlight successes and identify opportunities for each property in hopes that it might spark inspiration among the other teams.

It was a well-intentioned concept – and blessed by my boss, but it quickly turned counterproductive when the emails often inspired an influx of “Reply-All” responses. Sometimes the emails would be positive in tone, “Congratulations, Rob and team for such a worthy watchdog effort!” Then there was a certain adversarial – and sassy – individual who responded with challenging remarks (directed toward me). Were said emails sent individually to me? No. They were “Reply-All” emails that included more than 50 other employees. Journalists are easily some of the gutsiest people I know.

It wouldn’t have been easy, but looking back, I should have created a group in company’s enterprise social network, Yammer, to communicate with the teams I coached. I was extremely active in an Audience Analysts community of practice group on to keep up with best practices for my role across the organization. The hurdle would lie in getting those I coached, the content managers – and their teams – to adopt the platform. Email was deeply entrenched in their work culture. Here are some ways I could have transitioned the emails into an enterprise social network:

Tips to reducing email at work:

·       Post critical information. Cross posting information to both the community and email wouldn't have been successful, as Talk Social to Me has witnessed in working with other organizations. Posting must-read content in the community would be a sure way to bring those I coached along with me.

·       Start with team managers. Sometimes – but not always, a top-down approach is best. I didn’t directly manage those who I coached, so leveraging the influence of direct managers to emphasize the benefit of using the group would have been extremely helpful.

·       Host a ‘Week without Email’ campaign. To help build awareness of the group, I could have experimented with a “Week without Email” for communications with me. It would be helpful to set a date on the calendar and to communicate the dates well in advance. All communications to and from me would be posted within the group during that week.

·       Advocate for the group. If a conversation should have been taking place in the community group, I could suggest it be moved there, and help follow through.

These past nine months at Talk Social to Me have been a complete 180 from working at an organization where email is such a ubiquitous, entrenched habit. If only I had been part of the solution – instead of part of the problem – at my former organization.

5 Rules to turn the tables on your collaboration tools technology initiative

If you lead Internal Communications or IT at your company, you likely have been watching recent developments in collaboration technology. Collaboration for the enterprise is expected to be a $49b market by 2021. The number of companies vying for that market (enterprise social networking being the heaviest category of spend) continues to grow. Technology that began as instant messaging apps or document storage services are being re-imagined.

  • There is deep competition to see which tool most effectively bridges the gap between employee communication and actionable work.
  • It’s a noisy, cluttered market with lots of capabilities.
  • The potential for distraction is very high.

What’s a Communications or IT leader to do while navigating sales demos, shadow IT and competing internal priorities? The answer is not the easiest solution:  Resist temptations for the newest, flashiest features (aka artificial intelligence)—for now. Put your business use cases front and center to direct your choice of tool. It’s also important to be realistic: it’s unlikely that any one tool will solve every use case at your company. Envision and plan for an ecosystem of tools that support your people, your processes and your company culture. Use these framing ideas to guide your company’s search for the right communication and collaboration mix with an employee and business-value centric approach.

Rule 1:  Don’t act alone

One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of finding the right technology is tackling the process as a team effort. HR and/or Internal Communications often lead the initiative, but IT should also serve as an active partner to ensure the tool selection meets expected technical and security standards.

It’s also very common to see these projects happening without input from the intended users of the tools. Your employees are not just your internal customers, they are your best advisors. A Softchoice study found that among 1,000 IT Managers and line-of-business employees, 77% say their organizations do not consult them in the process of choosing an office communications tool. Recruit a team of employee advisors to work with you! They are in the best position to help reconcile specific business objectives, day-to-day workflows and what the tools can do. Successful Talk Social to Me customers engage their employees in gathering candid feedback on what’s working and what’s not with existing solutions. Employees you involve in the process will also be natural champions and spokespeople when it is time to introduce tools widely within your company.

Rule 2:  Match the technology to your people and needs

Alcatel-Lucent’s head of digital marketing stresses that modern day companies are not homogeneous entities. How people work and their personal preferences (thanks to our app and technology-obsessed lives as consumers) vary widely. Find the common themes among your users. A streamlined tools ecosystem that exists under the purview of IT offers one, or at most two tools to address like use cases. For outliers and unique situations (legal or financial areas are common), plan an ecosystem that’s flexible—most organizations have at least a few industry and/or functionally mandated processes that need special accommodations.

When you define your needs, identify where the intended impacts of collaboration will be felt and who they will impact.

  • Will they directly benefit the employee experience?
  • Will they increase efficiency internally and ultimately manifest outside the business (perhaps as improved customer experience)?
  • Our customers often tell us they want “to increase employee engagement.” This isn’t specific enough and there is no clear “why?”
    • This will also be a challenge when the tool gets introduced. Employees may not share the feeling that there is a worthwhile outcome to be gained from using a new collaboration tool.
  • An un-specific “why” will cause employees to question whether or notthey should bother engaging. Well defined goals aligned to the business, combined with a collaboration tool that is part of the “how,” will have a much stronger appeal to everyone.

Rule 3:  Take stock of existing relationships

Look at your company’s existing IT investments. What vendor relationships have been successful? Which tools are already widely used? Does it make sense, for example, to consider G-Suite if your company already has a significant user base? Vendor relationships and trust take time to develop—so look where the company has already invested. There are many exciting collaboration offerings coming from companies such as Atlassian, Box, Microsoft and Facebook. When you compare the tools, you’ll find much of the functionality offered across vendors is almost identical.  Look at which tools are already in use helping employee productivity.

We’ve also observed a dark side of relationships that sometimes affect vendor choices:  personal relationships. Sometimes personal relationships and favors are used to skirt formal and thorough vendor vetting efforts. Having worked with colleagues in other companies is good, but personal relationships should not be driving or forcing (in the case of among executive leaders) a vendor selection. When this happens, it adds to the natural disconnect that executives face every day as leaders of big companies. It’s hard to stay connected to any company’s daily operations.

Rule 4:  Harness diverse perspectives and tenure with an employee advisory committee

When you recruit your employee tools advisory members, reach out and invite people from many areas of the business. This diversity of users will represent a broader sampling of the company. In recruiting advisors, consider tenure. Workers hired in the past 6 months will draw from both their early experiences at your company and their more recent experiences at other companies. Employees who’ve been with your company 2+ years will have a richer, more historical perspective on what’s best for your company. Employees who are given a voice in the decision will feel valued and recognized when invited to contribute—so target your advisors wisely. Anyone vocal about existing tools or the problems can be a worthy candidate. Someone who has a lot of feedback (be it positive or negative) clearly cares enough to express it vs. leaving your company.  

Rule 5:  Embrace (or at least, Respect) Shadow IT

It’s hard these days to structure a tools ecosystem without coming to terms with Shadow IT. Cisco found the number of cloud services used in large enterprises had grown 112% between 2015 and 2016. The quest for efficiency and productivity is indeed king. But Shadow IT is something to be studied. It likely holds clues to use cases and business functions where employees took matters into their own hands. Learn why. Were they trying to eliminate friction they experienced using other company tools? Were they seeking efficiency; answering needs of unique workflow circumstances? Were they fed up with the long RFP process IT imposed on them? Understand what motivated the actions and take steps toward improvement, depending on what you find. Shadow IT is hard to make go entirely away, but understanding where it is rooted informs the relationship and perceptions employees have of your company’s IT team.

It really is about understanding & navigating people. Really.

The software makers and experts would have you believe tools and features can solve for everything, but the stark reality is that the failure rate for enterprise social networks is high. Businesses often don’t make the program investments they need to to mitigate the real adoption wildcard:  people. Involve employees in different levels of the tool selection and rollout process. Plan on investing in  strategic programming for the long term. Employees that participate in any of the above ways (being in the advisory group, being invited to share feedback and/or why they use outside services) will be natural ambassadors post- launch. With creative programming and team support, employees will have had a hand in creating something good for the business and its people.


Why you need group leader coaching to build engagement on Workplace


You've launched Workplace to your organization, and early adoption and engagement are strong. But as the initial buzz calms down, people are starting to ask - how do I use Workplace for... real work? It's up to you to have the answer. We know that building strong group leaders is the secret sauce to a thriving Workplace community. To keep employees interested, engaged and productive, you need to support the mid-to-senior leaders who will bring their processes and work out of email and into the community.

Building productive, confident, responsive and inclusive group leaders requires a bit of preparation and sometimes a lot of practice. It's not always natural for leaders to shift their work habits away from "what they know" into a more open, collaborative home like Workplace. One-on-one coaching with a Workplace expert can help take your community from needing a kick-start to engaged and eager.

MORE: We're betting big on Workplace - Why Workplace by Facebook is a force to be reckoned with

Building Strong Group Leaders in Four Steps

Who are your group leaders? They are the manager, director and VP-level employees who are responsible for a team, a project, a function or an area of the business. Inside Workplace, they will build and lead their people to work more openly and together. Group leaders will build the group and drive engagement for the purpose of achieving their intended business outcome.

Here are four tried-and-true ways to get them up and running in Workplace with confidence.

1.    Teach them the basics of engagement. Not all group leaders realize the importance of their role within Workplace, or how the platform can be leveraged to create dialogue (rather than a one-way broadcast channel). Some are thrown into the position simply as a part of newfound Workplace job duties, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to facilitate employee connections (yet). At minimum, one-on-one coaching sessions are of value in establishing a baseline for group leaders and how their role is essential to creating a positive employee experience. Some daily expectations of group leaders might include:

  • Greeting & tagging new members as they join. You wouldn’t want to walk into a dinner party without any acknowledgement. Group leaders should operate as hosts by @ mentioning new members in a status update.
  • Ensuring questions are answered in a timely manner. Point out resources, including other people with an @ mention, if you are not the best user to answer.
  • Starting and continuing conversations with members. It has to be somebody’s job to present the icebreaker questions – and that somebody is the group leader.

2.    Provide accountability, based on the group’s specific objectives. Each group within Workplace is unique. A one-on-one coaching session can help group leaders to hone in on a few concrete goals, and exactly what is to be accomplished within workplace. We always tell group leaders to avoid "boiling the ocean" and keep their focus narrow. Developing customized daily and weekly Workplace action plans based on these objectives holds group leaders accountable – and helps co-leaders to remain on the same wavelength. Group leaders can ensure objectives are met by:

  • Establishing two to three concrete goals for the group and specifically spelling out how Workplace will be used to accomplish the goals.
  • Communicating these goals clearly – in the group description and/or as a pinned post at the top of the group – is important for keeping the focus, too.

3.    Highlight opportunities for improvement. Groups that aren't prioritized by group leaders will often receive the same treatment from users. If a group leader is only posting to the group once every two weeks, post frequency obviously should be an area of focus. But other opportunities for improvement aren’t always so obvious. A seasoned community coach can help you determine less-obvious ways to boost engagement. You might coach your group leaders to be more engaging and signal the group's importance by:

  • Responding to questions or posts in a timely manner – Response time is important. It helps group members know their questions and contributions are valued. Establish a one-hour goal for acknowledging posts, even if it’s just a simple “like.”
  • Calling out and encouraging others to post – If group managers are the only users doing the posting, members might be waiting for an invitation. Choose a topic for discussion and @ mention key users to signal that their response is requested.
  • Giving thanks – Don’t forget to thank members for their contributions to let them know that they’re valued. Give thanks by @mentioning the user in a thread they’ve started or in a new “kudos” post giving a bigger shout out to the @mentioned individual(s).

4.    Build confidence and peer support with a Group Leader Hangout. Group coaching is a great opportunity for group leaders to bounce ideas off of a each other and more experienced community leaders. Are you looking to onboard a new hire population primarily on Workplace? Not sure where to start in launching your first crowdsourcing campaign? Build a dedicated group in Workplace for all of your group leaders to join, share best practices, and offer advice to each other. The organic support that group leaders receive from their peers will work wonders in boosting confidence and competence in leading a team in Workplace.


Talk Social to Me's "How to be a Great Group Leader in Workplace" is a practical resource that can help boost engagement on your organization's Workplace platform.

How can the community professionals at Talk Social to Me help coach your organization's group leaders? Connect with us for a copy of our How to be a Great Group Leader in Workplace guide today.

We're betting big on Workplace: Why Workplace by Facebook is a force to be reckoned with

Analysts, competitors, and consumers, take note: it's time to stop scoffing and time to start respecting Workplace by Facebook as a serious contender in the enterprise social space. Now officially one year old in production, Workplace is gaining traction -- and winning top-notch customers. Just today, Workplace announced a customer win for retail giant Walmart. Convincing the world's largest private employer to sign up for employee collaboration is no small feat; that they chose Workplace by Facebook over rivals is indicative of a larger global trend in prioritizing solid employee experiences and simple, easy communication.

Long-Term Value & Your ESN: Finding the Magic and Making it Stick

Long-Term Value & Your ESN: Finding the Magic and Making it Stick

You’ve got this shiny new thing called an enterprise social network (ESN). You’ve unwrapped the package, installed the batteries, read the instruction manual, and flipped the switch. Abracadabra! Poof! This thing is ON. You move forward with an awareness campaign, you train your users, and after the first few months you even have some metrics you can collect. But you still might be scratching your head, thinking, “How do I create long-term value with this thing?” Upper management is breathing down your neck, wanting to know how it’s going, and by the way, has it paid for itself yet?

Yammer in a Time of Crisis: Supporting Employees During Hurricane Irma

Yammer in a Time of Crisis: Supporting Employees During Hurricane Irma

Recently, Talk Social to Me had the opportunity to help Johnson & Johnson stand up a Yammer group to support employees in just such a situation. During September’s Hurricane Irma, a J&J employee shared her desire to help evacuated employees find housing with other employees out of harm’s way. Within hours, a cross-functional team from IT, Human Resources, Workforce Communications, Global Services and others mobilized to make this happen – and the Employee Home Share program was born.

6 Tips to Transition Your Company Publication into an Employee Community

It marks the end of an era. After decades of publication, C-suite executives have decided to cease the printing of your organization's company magazine as they launch an employee community.

You’re not quite sure how you feel about it. The company magazine has been viewed as an industry symbol and incarnation of the business for as long as you can remember. You’ve worked hard to plan, write, edit and paginate the publication each month, and there’s nothing like the smell of fresh print when the magazine is delivered from the plant. Part of you feels like donning a black veil and calling around to schedule a proper burial service.

Mourn not, internal communications pro. It’s time to admit it. There is another part of you that feels strangely liberated. This is an exciting opportunity to start something fresh, and unbound by the constraints of print.

Not sure where to start? Translating your existing internal communications into your employee community isn’t as daunting as you think.

Enterprise Social Network Rollouts, Language, and Culture, Oh My!

It’s exciting to introduce an enterprise social network (ESN)! It’s also very common to start by planning a giant, one-time event. But enterprise social networks, while often guided by the same people leading other company-wide initiatives, are inherently different and there are many reasons why the correct sequence of events and use of language is critical. ESNs are relationship tools for your employees. Like those work relationships, employee networks can go on forever and they are central your company’s strategy with regard to its top asset:  its people.  

To prove value back to the business and to the employees who use it, an ESN requires the gradual steps of a crawl-stand-walk-run methodology. How else would you approach the Yellow Brick Road?

Celebrating #WOL and Women of Leisure

As we sashay right into our first day of #WOLweek, we celebrate those ladies who best embrace living the #WOL lifestyle: bon bons in the morning, a cocktail at mid-day, and a bit of afternoon sun by the pool. It's high time that we properly acknowledge all of the women and their leisurely activities that sparked the powerful global social media trend called #WOLweek. Won't you join us in the festivities?

"But wait," you might be thinking right now. "It's Women of Leisure week? Is that what all of this #WOL chatter is about? That can't be."

Migrating from Jive to Yammer

Every few months, new shiny chat-apps and social technologies roar onto the enterprise collaboration scene. They force a lot of tough choices when it comes to determining the right mix in your collaboration landscape: how do you combine legacy toolsets, evolving use cases and micro-purpose apps brought into the mix by employees? It’s no wonder that companies often find themselves questioning whether they are using the right tools, the best combination of tools, and even switching between tools on a fairly regular basis. The employee collaboration experience is ever-changing, which makes our jobs as technologists and community managers a constant work-in-progress.

Making the Switch from Jive to Workplace by Facebook

With the recent acquisition of Jive Software by ESW Capital and the Aurea family of companies, Talk Social to Me has fielded many calls from companies who are wondering if they should consider changing vendors when their contracts are up. We love Jive's product and especially its people, who are some of the best collaboration pros in the industry. But we also are acutely aware of what happens during an acquisition, and we realize that many decisions are now out of the hands of the Jive team that we know and trust.

14 Hacks to Reverse Employee Community Engagement Decline

Does your company have an employee community or enterprise social network that is seeing a decline in engagement? Engagement decline is a serious problem that community managers have the power to address (or prevent if your community isn’t yet introduced!). Whether your engagement decline happens in the first two weeks or the first 100 days, it’s an early warning signal that you have more work to do to make the community indispensable for employees.

SBH Health System Employee Community Transformed with Workplace by Facebook

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In healthcare making a difference for one person has network effects. For SBH Health System (SBH) in the Bronx, New York, implementing a Workplace by Facebook online employee community has produced several benefits for the hospital. In just 4 months the online community has...

Best Practices for Employee Communities in Highly Regulated Industries

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If you’re launching or (or possibly already have) an employee community in a highly-regulated industry, the myriad regulations that concern your leadership are definitely challenges. But even in highly regulated industries such as healthcare, financial services, or education, employee communities are still viable.

Upcoming Webinars: How to Measure Behavior in Your Enterprise Social Network

Upcoming Webinars: How to Measure Behavior in Your Enterprise Social Network

If you’re running your company’s enterprise social network (ESN), you will inevitably be asked about the success of the platform—are people using it? How often and what for? What value are we really getting out of this thing, anyway?

How White Labs Uses Workplace by Facebook During Company Expansion

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Whether it’s introducing a new product, conducting an acquisition or expanding a brand’s footprint, it’s not rare for companies to experience growing pains. White Labs, an international yeast fermentation company based in San Diego, is no exception.