A major selling point of the paperless office from enterprise IT’s perspective was that it would reduce costs while making employees more efficient and more productive. Digitized work would get things done quicker and save time posting letters or finding folders stored in filing cabinets. There’s little doubt that IT has made many improvements to the way we work, yet when it comes to day to day workflows, it has sometimes ended up making things more complicated. Particularly when it comes to email.
You’ve Got Mail
On a global level, around 70% of emails are SPAM - and of the messages which get past our junk filters, a large quantity are in fact irrelevant or unhelpful. Some estimates suggest that up to a quarter of office workers’ time is spent on effectively ‘useless’ email-related activity. This refers to time-consuming ‘back and forth’ correspondence which would take only a moment if it were to happen face to face, yet which can take far longer when done over email. We also lose time getting distracted by message chains we are CC’d into but which don’t really concern us. When this is combined with the instinct to constantly check our inboxes and read newsletters which add nothing to our work, email quickly becomes a major obstacle to efficient working.
How have enterprise IT providers responded?
IT solution providers are keenly aware of the psychology behind our constant need to open emails. Our behavioral patterns are driven by a mixture of anxiety, pleasure and curiosity. When Outlook tells us a new email has arrived in our inbox, it’s hard not to click through and read it (and consequently get distracted and lose five minutes of actual work time). Receiving a notification triggers:
- Anxiety: because we’re afraid of missing out on crucial information
- Pleasure: the email might tell us something extremely helpful
- Curiosity: when we become aware that we don’t have something (i.e. knowledge of the email’s contents), we immediately want to find out what it is
However, since a great quantity of the messages we receive actually contribute little to our work, email providers offer a range of tools to help screen out what we need from the noise. Of course, spam filters have existed for a long time now, yet these often don’t do enough. If you’re an exec that receives two to three hundred emails in a day, sorting through the noise can be seriously time consuming.
Recognizing this challenge, Microsoft has now made Clutter available to Office 365 business users. The tool sits within Outlook and uses machine learning to detect the kinds of emails that individual users need to read most, while filtering out those which are less pressing into a ‘Clutter’ folder. Clutter implements algorithms which measure the kinds of emails the individual user reads and notices which contacts are important. From this point on, it is able to push the less important messages onto the back burner, to be read when the user has more free time (if ever…). The tool has received positive reviews, and will be particularly useful to business users who are constantly overwhelmed by emails.
But email’s just part of the equation
The digital era has led to an inundation in the amount of data that business users receive, and email is just one part of this deluge. Filtering emails is fine, yet this is a little like trying to dam a river by putting a single boulder mid-stream. We’re flooded with information which is endlessly vying for our attention - not just from email, but also from social tools like Yammer, customer service providers such as Salesforce or updates from Calendars and Office 365.
At harmon.ie we realized there’s a pressing need to organize and manage the information which comes from these tools and applications in one place. Rather than being washed away by the river, business users need to be like dam operators, deciding just how they organize and manage the information they receive. That is one of the key value propositions for harmon.ie Email, harmon.ie Mobile, and now, Collage; because we believe it’s all about returning control to the business worker. By providing a single context, single-app for all the tools people need to be productive, harmon.ie excels as creating the streamlined work experience that means the difference between success and failure.
Our newest offering Collage provides a solution for the Digital Workplace business worker who conducts their work with a wide range of applications and services from many vendors; these services provide updates and notifications on different topics throughout the day. Collage works to manage this influx of data, by offering a single screen environment from which all these applications can be managed. What’s more, it also allows users to group information by topic - even if it comes from different sources.
Get back in control
The digital era promised the possibility of faster, more effective information management. While IT has always had the potential of radically improving workflows, it’s a great irony that it also contributes to greater distraction and inefficiency. As the number of information sources keeps on growing, tools like Collage will provide the link which will help us get the best out of our tech.