Managing email overload

Jacob Wardrop, director at 28Hands, part of the Arup Group, looks at how we can regain control of our inboxes.

Despite the growth and prominence of mobile messengers and chat apps, email remains an integral part of daily work life. However, its abundant use has created an overload of information, leaving many businesses struggling to keep up with the volume of communications – particularly those that work in long-term projects where email contains a huge amount of sensitive data. That includes clients, architects, engineers, project managers, contractors and more.

In 2018, the number of global email users amounted to 3.8 billion and this is set to grow to 4.4 billion users by 2023. In 2017, 269 billion emails were sent and received each day. This figure is expected to increase to over 333 billion daily emails in 2022. The email epidemic is getting worse.

Why does email even matter?

Just like any other type of documents of record, emails need to be managed. And, given the amount of sensitive data stored within them, emails should form an integral part of information management strategies. Not only is it still a key channel for communication, but it contains sensitive information such as contracts, financial documents, HR information, proposals and more.

For businesses that typically work in project teams, email is a critical communication channel for team collaboration, storing data, project organisation and delivery, and accessing project files. However, according to a CareerBuilder/Harris Poll, email is ranked as the top workplace-related productivity killer. Additionally, a study by Workfront found that well over half of the respondents said too many emails stopped them from getting work done.

Email is also one of the biggest bottlenecks for organisations as information remains trapped within individuals’ inboxes. Employees waste hours manually filing and searching for emails, and forgotten emails create a lack of accountability. In fact, according to McKinsey, responding, reading and organising emails takes up 28% of the average worker’s week. With the amount of emails we send and receive every day growing exponentially, we must find ways to make email work smarter and more effectively.

The use case

We’ve all been in a position where email has become critical and it’s generally when a project, or something, goes wrong. Everyone knows the principles of strong information management, but not when it comes to emails.

Globally, the benefits of collaboration have been recognised and promoted, and it’s common to share documents and information, however, someone working on a critical project or client can still only see their own emails, not everything relating to that project or client.

An evolving workforce, the pressure to remain competitive, and regulatory requirements relating to the record keeping of information will force companies at some point to ensure they can access all the information relating to a project in one view.

So, you may well resonate with these three scenarios we hear time and time again:

  • Being unable to find important correspondence sent or received by another member of the team, when that member of the team is unavailable or has left the business.
  • Wasting valuable time hunting for historic information.
  • Inconsistent email filing processes as everyone within the business does it differently.

Questioning the status quo

Critical data is held within email, meaning it should be at the forefront of business transformation. Without changing the way you use email, and given the abundance of emails being sent, you’ll never find all the information you need when it’s buried in a huge inbox – often someone else’s. 

The UK’s Digital Strategy has recognised the importance of businesses improving their technical proficiencies, but when it comes to managing email there is still more to be done. For example, Dame Judith Hackett’s review of Building & Fire Regulations has made the government question what the construction industry can do together to deliver better buildings. Dame Judith’s report says: “At a time when the pressure to change our Construction methods and collaborate effectively could not be greater, it is crucial that we challenge how project information is being managed and shared.”

So, it’s becoming more and more important for businesses to be able to file and search emails centrally, so they have one easily searchable audit trail of correspondence across the whole project.

How Arup solved its email headache

Around 10 years ago, Arup identified email as a major issue in the business. Like many companies, there was no consistent process across the company for managing email, and the firm felt that the information contained in email is critical to the running of a project.

Most email systems accumulate years of communications, dispersed across various mailboxes or public folders. Arup realised when queries or disputes arises, often quite urgently, the audit process and daily working process were not enough. To address this, Arup adopted an email management strategy and developed Mail Manager to enable all client information to be stored in one centrally located place, making it easier to access.

Mail Manager, originally developed for internal use, helped Arup facilitate this by integrating with Microsoft Outlook to offer a suggested filing location for each email sent by the user. As messages are filed in the same location as other project documents they are all in one place, making it easy to find both during the life of the project or many years later from an archive.

Now, Mail Manager is used by over 50,000 AEC users, in 12 countries, by five of the top 10 engineers, 15 of the top 100 architects, and over 1000 companies.

Why Mail Manager?

Mail Manager is an email management tool designed to streamline the filing, searching and retrieval of the mass amounts of emails businesses receive – designed specifically for project teams. Mail Manager can file to local disks, network servers or to the cloud, meaning customers retain control of their data. And one of the key features is the intuitive prompt to file and predict where to file, helping reduce the risk of human error and enabling users to file to the correct project folders without thinking about it.  

Additionally, we integrate with a variety of storage providers including Box, OneDrive, Viewpoint, SharePoint, Dropbox, Synergy and ProjectWise.

Five tips to regain control of your email:

  • Make sure sensitive emails are stored in a way that matches your protocols for other documents
  • Restrict access for those who can view and read emails
  • Deliver an overnight, cost-effective replacement for your existing system
  • Ensure uniformity over processes, such as email archiving
  • Be able to find all correspondence associated with a person or project

Image: Melpomenem/Dreamstime.com

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