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.