The most significant problem with e-mail in every organization I have ever seen is the sheer volume of notes. So many people find it impossible to keep up with the tidal wave of communication coming at them every day. It is a major source of stress, and it hampers good communication because when people are submerged in notes, they do not read the important ones.
I have worked in numerous organizations helping leaders improve their e-mail habits, which also improves the performance of their entire organization. It is possible to reduce the volume of e-mails in an organization by more then 30% with only 4 hours of training. I know this because I have done it several times. All that is needed is for the group to focus on the issues of e-mail problems they have and create a set of ground rules for their group.
The interesting thing is that the ground rules are really very simple, and most of us would say they are common knowledge. Unfortunately in most organizations they are not common practice, so by creating a set of specific rules that are to be used the majority of the time (and there can be rare exceptions) this easily cuts the volume by at least 30% right off the bat.
I recommend that groups create their own set of rules rather than handing them as set of rules made by me. Reason: When the group figures out how to word a concept and agrees to follow it as a rule, it has much more power than any list I could provide. But, for illustration, here are just a few rules that will cut the volume down quickly. You might adopt these rules or make some of your own up.
• Do not participate in any jokes or cartoons at work. Simply do not forward any of these.
• Never use the “reply all” function unless it is absolutely necessary.
• Do not use a standard distribution list unless it is required by the note.
• If a note requires an answer, put a flag in the subject to that effect.
• Keep all notes to less than one page length.
• Use attachments sparingly.
• Spell out action items clearly – who does what by when.
• Use bullets for lists of items more than three in length.
There are many more possible rules. I recommend any organization brainstorm the possibilities and select 10 or so to use. If you do this, you will be amazed at the productivity improvement that is immediately returned to the organization. I know this because I have been able to help groups do it with only a half day of training. It really does work, and people really love it.