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How to stop people using email to collaborate on documents

Out with the inbox: How to stop people using email to collaborate on documents

How many emails do you receive each day? More importantly, how long do you spend deleting unwanted messages, reading emails you’ve been copied into without reason and searching your inbox for that all-important attachment? It’s not difficult to see how email can drain your productivity. And if you’re struggling to stay organised amid a deluge of email, many of your staff are likely to be drowning too.

Few people were surprised when a 2012 report by the McKinsey Global Institute revealed that the average worker spends 28% of his or her time at work dealing with email. If you typically work a 50-hour week, that means some 14 hours is spent navigating your inbox. No wonder Thierry Breton of Atos decided to do away with the medium entirely when he launched the IT services giant’s famous ‘zero email’ initiative back in 2011.

Despite its growing reputation as an inefficient and slightly archaic form of communication (particularly among younger members of the workforce), any attempt to wean employees off email is still likely to encounter resistance. Why? Email is the comfort blanket of the modern office worker. Their email application is the first desktop icon they click in the morning and the last thing they check before switching off at night. If they want to stay in the loop while at home or on holiday, they use email to monitor events remotely. The inbox is functional, familiar and safe. It’s the technology that even the most technophobic, old-school employee in your department has embraced with open arms. And that makes it extremely difficult to prise away.

Most frustratingly for many managers, email remains a popular way for people to store and share documents. Although arguably it was never intended for this purpose, the typical worker’s inbox is a trove of reports, white papers, meeting notes and policy documents dating back months or even years. How many times have you heard an employee ask another for an important file to be greeted with the response: ‘Oh hang on a minute, it’s in my inbox somewhere…”?

For leaders, this trend must be reversed for two reasons. Firstly, using the inbox to store documents is a significant drain on time as employees spend valuable minutes trawling their email account for attachments. And secondly, email document storage often leads to multiple versions of the same file being circulated. It can make it very difficult for groups of employees, particularly large teams spread across different premises and/or locations, to collaborate on documents effectively.

A new approach to file sharing

So how can you stop staff using email in this way? Should you try weaning them off or take the zero-tolerance approach a la Monsieur Breton? Although his stance was admired by some, the general consensus since the French chief executive declared war on internal email has been that a complete cull is too drastic – after all, email will still be necessary for certain tasks.

The first step is to recognise, in the words of Forrester Research’s Philipp Karcher, that “other collaboration tools are more efficient than email for some types of interactions”. Secure business file sharing is one of those interactions. Then you just need to convince your employees of the same thing!

When it comes to improving the way people collaborate on documents and share files, you won’t have much success without offering a suitable alternative and then demonstrating how it can transform people’s working processes. Our online collaboration tool Kahootz is available on a free 30-day trial, which offers a perfect opportunity to get employees on board with a different way of collaborating and sharing files.

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