Eliminate the dreaded “reply-all” from your company…

We’ve all hate getting them - the dreaded “reply all” emails.  Too often, employees and co-workers continually use and abuse this button, to the extent that email is now “broken” in many companies throughout the business world.  Its sad really.  One little button can essentially ruin a function that was created to actually save people time.  Now however, it is one of the bigger time-wasters in our daily lives.

It’s the equivalent to spam in the business to business world – only you can’t opt-out.  You can fight back, however, and set up your life to better manage these CC’s (and BCC’s) and get back to the world of the important and urgent.

The goal of this post is to:

  • Make people “think” before hitting the reply-all button.  Should it go to a shorter distribution list, or does everyone really need to know this?
  • Punish those (a little bit) with an immediate confirmation “Thank you” back to the sender.  So, if they reply-all to 20 people, they will get 20 emails back saying “thanks!”
  • Explore the use of Social tools within the enterprise to try to curb the reliance on Email for non-critical / non-actionable information within the company.

Setup a Rule

The thing about email systems that most people forget is – you can make rules.  Rules are great – they automate the movement of emails and information as its sent to you.  It can be moved and replied to.  So, if you make a rule to move CC, BCC, and “Reply-All” emails

To set this up in Microsoft Outlook, go into your rules.  You will need to add  separate rules for this.  This is due to the fact that the “reply” rule is a Server-side rule , and the “Move” rule is an Outlook (Client) rule, and Outlook will not let you build a rule that combines both.  But it still works fine with 2.

Hi!

Thanks for including me in your “Reply All” or “CC” email. I like to read these emails once a week (usually Friday afternoons), but sometimes it can take even longer based on my schedule.

If there is something “actionable” that needs my immediate attention, please copy that piece out and resend it back to me (directly). Otherwise, I will read your email when I get a chance.

Have a great day!
_____________________
Joe Wichowski
Traction Consulting Group

The same thing can be done in Lotus Notes as well.  However, you will also need to make an Email Agent (since the Lotus Notes rule system does not have an “auto-reply” capability).  But it still works pretty much the same – 1 rule to “move” the email, and 1 agent to “reply” to the originator.

So, with this rule setup within your company, the next time someone CC’s 20 people, they will in fact get 20 emails back – right now – saying “Thanks! But I won’t be reading this anytime soon”.  If it is truly important, it will be up to the sender to re-send the information if it truly needs to be acted on.  However, more than likely they will just address the new email to those who need to see it (the remaining 18 people will be spared).  AND, the benefit for you is – you didn’t even see the email.  Its waiting for you in your “FYI” folder – when YOU are ready to read it.

Implement Social Tools

The thing about Reply-All’s and CC’s is that those emails are the pieces of information in the company that could truly benefit from Social tools.  If you this in terms of Facebook; what does Facebook really do for you?  It keeps you updated on your friends; it lets you see what they are working on; it lets you know their discoveries; it lets you know their challenges.  But the biggest thing Facebook does for you is – it lets you do all of this on your own time, when you are ready for it.

So twist that around, and apply that to the business world.  Reply-Alls and CC’d are an attempt by employees and co-workers to keep you updated; let you see what they’re working on (or did); let you know their findings and resolutions; let you know where they are stuck.  It’s essentially the same goals.  But when it comes to your Inbox, it does not give you the choice of reviewing it when you are ready.  Instead, it often hinders productivity.

To resolve that, a tool like Chatter or Lotus Live can help migrate these conversations within a context that matters – a social engagement tool that keeps people well-informed, while preserving the Inbox for immediate and urgent things.

A Note On Customer Etiquette

Often, my customers will “reply-all” to me.  I don’t mind.  But I don’t “reply back” to them either.  I usually build 2 sets of “reply” rules – one to reply to my internal staff, and the other to simply move the CC or Reply-All email into a separate “Customer FYI” folder.  I usually quickly scan those headers once a day, to see if anything really demands my attention.

Bottom line for me – Customers always come first, but work needs to get done.  I think by creating the proper set of rules within your email system, and engaging in a social tool, will put your company on the healthy path to better productivity.

If you would like to discuss your productivity challenges, and get some insight into Social tools that may help your organization, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.