In the next few weeks Halton Housing Trust switches off internal email.

This is not some fad or publicity stunt as some respondents to the initial article in Inside Housing claimed. Others also said we would never make it happen. Well the news is that it is!

The business case for switching off internal email is well documented in a whole series of articles, blogs, rules and research. It fits very well with the overall drive to increase value for money. Imagine if you could improve the effectiveness of your business by up to 40%. Well the good news is you potentially can!

The Trust has been on this journey for the last two years and the reasons we are pursuing this are outlined in my earlier blog.

The basic business case is this. The average employee spends 40% of their working week dealing with internal email that adds no value to the business. That’s a useless statistic so look at it another way – no one does anything of real value to your business until Wednesday each week!

internal email 1 (2)

The other key point is that email as a communications tool has not kept pace with the changing world. It was fine in 1990 when it started to become mainstream in many businesses. However it hasn’t adapted to reflect how the majority of people now communicate with each other, especially outside the workplace.

So as we take a very large leap into the unknown, what have been some of the more recent developments and issues?

We’ve taken quite some time to understand the reasons why people are using email. It doesn’t make for good reading.

Our in depth research with colleagues told us they use email to:

  1. Chase/request information
  2. Send information(which would include attachments)
  3. Ask someone to do a piece of work

the hub blog

Statistically we found:

  • Colleagues spent between 2-5 hours a day handling emails.
  • 62% said email was the least effective way of communicating

What is clear is that email has become an over used and abused communication tool. Instead of being one of many ways to hold conversations it has become the default tool. Linked to this is the fact that for many people they don’t recognise the signs that they are addicted to email.

Don’t believe me? Well here are two tests you can try:

  1. Switch off your email for two entire days. Don’t look at any on your phone, tablet or office based screens. See if you can actually go ‘cold turkey’ for 48 hours.
  2. Imagine a situation whereby you come out of a meeting and you pick up your phone. There are four notifications flashing at you: a new voicemail, a new social media direct message, a new email and a new text message. Which do you open first?

90% of people when asked this second question respond with the text message. So then think what do you do when you want to send someone an urgent message in your organisation? Most people at this point smile and realise that email is not the panacea they think it is.

text message image
Most importantly this is about a change in culture and behaviour, not introducing some new software. We have spent time understanding the reasons why people over use email and then discussing with them what alternatives they would like to see in its place.

One of the most common questions I’m asked is how are we going to cope in a post non-email world? The answer is through a combination of the following:

  1. Colleagues will be able to send tasks to each other, which they will categorise as sending information, requesting information/update or a request for work, which are all workflows. Each part of our business will have their own workflows for specific tasks, which they will predetermine.
  2. Managers will be able to see their teams and departmental tasks at a glance.
  3. Lync and the usual Microsoft Office programmes will be viewed from a personalised dashboard each colleague has on our newly created ‘Hub’. We are currently working to integrate the Microsoft Exchange calendar so making, amending and responding to appointments will all happen via The Hub.
  4. Documents can be uploaded into the Hub, enabling multiple individuals to work on version controlled tasks at the same time.
  5. The system enables sharing documents/information externally.
  6. Each task will have the option to start a discussion thread relating specifically to this.

Lync blog

These changes haven’t all been plain sailing – indeed far from it. This further proves the point about how people are addicted to email and as such have an irrational response when this is about to be taken away from them. This is despite the clear business case being made, alternative communication tools being put into place and people realising this will provide them with more time to do the things that really matter.

The next few months will be an invaluable source of learning. I’ll be reflecting on the lessons learnt via my Halton Housing Trust blog site. It should make for an interesting read!!