Saturday, March 28, 2009

Is email dead?

A colleague recently suggested that email within our organisation is not looking at all healthy and may be on its last legs. At 40 years of age email is not that old in human terms but for many staff email is well past its use-by date and often feels like this video clip with most staff receiving serveral hundred emails each month...

A full inbox is a dis-heartening sight - particularly if you spend hours emptying it one week only to discover it full the next. For some (many?) the email ritual has become one of 'quick-scan' - 'select-all' - 'delete'.

Unfortunately this process can result in missed opportunities, lost student work and low response rates.

For an organisation with over 2,000 staff across 19 campuses communication is vital but it can't always be face-to-face. And we realised some years ago that it can't be all paper-based - the large bin used to fill very quickly as staff walked away from their pigeon-holes.

So... where does that leave us? We have the telephone which is now mobile and therefore more convenient - and more intrusive. And mobiles are rapidly becoming PDAs that beep every few minutes as emails arrive - in addition to calls and SMS.

We are flooded with information but starved of what we need to know and what we would like to know.

Are there solutions? I think so... Provided we can first agree on what is best done through a particular mode of communication and how best to use the chosen mode - and then share those guidelines across the organisation.

We have many choices...

Face-to-face: Meetings don't always have to always be state-wide, or formal, or filled with information...

Email: Can be auto-directed to folders, compiled into digests or newsletters, flagged and prioritised, auto-forwarded to preferred addresses... Email should not be 'just-in-case you needed to know' information or bulk mailed when it doesn't concern the majority of users.

Portals/Websites: Can be organised to locate information just-in-time, be RSS enabled and be up-to-date.

Online spaces: Can be used for collaborative editing of documents (eg Google Documents) or more complex collaboration (Wikis or Google Groups)

Aggregators: Can be used to receive and organise and share what each person wants to know from websites, portals, newsfeeds, multimedia channels, blogs and micro-blogs, wikis... (eg Google Reader)

Podcasts/vodcasts: Can be used to broadcast or narrowcast audio and video.

Blogs/micro-blogs: Can be used to share stories, collaborate and create personal and professional networks - locally and globally.

Mobile Phones: Can be used to send reminders and information to individuals and groups - as well as get feedback.

Online meeting spaces: Can be used for communication, sharing, collaboration, simulation depending on the space chosen (eg Elluminate, FlashMeeting, Second Life...) Sessions can be recorded for playback or broadcast or narrowcast.

Paper: Can be newsletters, magazines, pamphlets, stickers, posters, cards, books...

Existing services: There are many online services, directories, channels... that are provided locally, nationally and globally for educational institutions, educators and students. (eg edna)

What else do we need to consider before deciding on guidelines for communication, collaboration, dialogue and networking across a large multi-campus organisation?

Which combination of these is likely to provide the most efficient and effective communication solution?

Is it possible to 'save' email or is it too late? :-)


tasteach said...

Relies on people checking regularly. I have just been sending emails to all staff at our school and getting system admin messages that 5 boxes are full - these had over 2000 emails in each of them, many were from the department saying mail box if full or from infostream or ITS. Surely the department can find a way to work out when a person is not using their email regularly?

one box was from someone no longer at our school.

pr said...

I think one of the best opportunities in front of our organisation is the portal - previously when we have included some things such as a feed of recent items from edna on the main intranet site it really did get people's interest. If people who wanted/needed to communicate out to the wider staff community used the portal as a place for their info rather than broadcast emails perhaps we could start to shape a new communication culture. I'm feeling a bit like email is like junkmail at the moment - there are some you open, some you immediately want to toss in the recycling bin, but you also know there might be a gem that you miss in that immediate recycle. It might be instructive to corner a few guinea pigs and evaluate their email inflow over the course of a week to see what type of 'junkmail' and valuable mail is landing in their inbox.

Roger Stack said...

tasteach - I thought infostream was meant to help communication :-) I had them autoforwarding to a folder but often just checked the infostream website occassionally...

pr - I certainly hope we can offer staff some better communication alternatives in the near future - and some kind of PL to support it...