Alison Davis and I recently facilitated a workshop for the IABC Heritage Region and we ran out of time to answer all the great questions we received. So, I’m taking to the blogosphere to answer four of them. Here’s the second:

In this virtual environment, our associates are starting to get overwhelmed by communicating by email (too many emails). Any suggestions?

Here are five strategies to deal with this challenge: 

  1. Quantify the issue and set a goal. Conduct quick research with employees to understand if there is a problem and how it occurs. Do they get too many emails from corporate functions? Too many from their colleagues? When you have a good picture of the issue, set a goal. For example, reduce corporate emails by X%. 
  2. Interpersonal communication. Help employees understand the challenge (“We send 10,000 emails every day!”) and how they can contribute to reducing volume. Share tips and best practices across your communication channels. Two examples: 
    -Avoid email chains. After two responses, move to a conversation by phone or web meeting. 
    -Don’t use Reply All. Respect your colleagues’ inboxes and only copy those who have a role to play.
  3. Leverage other channels. Ensure there are alternative channels for employees, such as instant messaging and social tools (for example, Yammer or Chatter). Help employees and teams understand how to use these tools. And encourage leaders to start conversations there as well. 
  4. Consult with functions or departments. There are likely one or two groups in your organization that could use help streamlining their emails. HR and IT are good places to start. Run a few workshops with stakeholders to help them reinvent how they use email. For example, we worked with an HR team to reduce the number of people announcements shared by email. During a workshop, we set standards for email and brainstormed a new tool on the intranet designed to help employees find new hires by function or department. 
  5. Create better email. In our research, employees have no problem sharing the characteristics of bad email: lack of relevance, too long and no call to action. For employees, bad emails make the overload problem even worse. Gather a group of stakeholders from across the organization and develop standards for all-employee emails. For example, each email should:
    -Focus on an action
    -Cover topics X, Y and Z; that is, set the topics that warrant an all-employee email
    -Be targeted, so the content is relevant (You may need to develop better distribution lists to do this.)
    -Be scannable (subheads!), limited to 100 words and written at the seventh-grade reading level, so employees can quickly consume the content
    -Use a visual, when appropriate, to explain a process or concept

Have your own question about internal communication? Drop me a note.

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