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Could Open Email Work for You?

Recently I had a case of walking pneumonia that quickly turned into flat-on-my-back pneumonia. The only good thing that came out of it was that I spent a few days away from email. When I returned, there were the better part of 1,000 missives waiting for me (and that’s not counting what the spam filter held), but it was reassuring and instructive to realize that the world didn’t end just because I wasn’t an email hawk for a few days.

This got me thinking how people use and manage email nowadays. As I scrolled through the many messages, it was easy to see that plenty of people use email for the most ephemeral, not-worth-saving reasons: dozens and dozens of notes had single sentences or fragments such as “Done,” “OK,” Sure,” and “Will do,” sitting atop a long exchange. In some ways, it was faster reading all that email in one long, sub-Marissa Mayer session. I could isolate 15-piece email chains, delete or file the first 14, and focus on the most recent part. You can’t do that in real time (I try; I employ GTD for email, but I’m not religious about it).

The most interesting way of managing email that I’ve read about lately is the open email regime employed by JP Rangaswami, CIO of BT Global Services. Stowe Boyd reports:

“JP has set up a stringent approach to filtering his email. He throws all email where he is CC’d directly into the trash. Basically, he only reads email directed to him, alone. Of course, for this to have any influence on people’s behavior, he has to loudly and regularly let others know that he is doing this. More interestingly, he has opened access to his email to his staff. By treating his email as an open forum, he has found that his associates are more involved in his interactions with others. He has found that they can use this — particularly his sent mail — is a great learning opportunity.”

So much of working online involves deciding what’s public and what’s private. Rangaswami has turned this around, at least for his work (I assume he still has a private email account he doesn’t share). As fellow Radarite Brady Forrest noted when we discussed this recently, “Although this is analogous to making email like forums and wikis, the key difference is that you are using email as the entry point. It’s not a separate wiki/forum site.” And, since it’s a tool that everyone uses already, it’s more likely that the non-alphageeks you work with might be more likely to use it. What do you think: Could open email break down some walls in your organization?

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  • http://blog.andrewparker.net/ Andrew

    I’m sure the open email approach works well for the CIO of a large corporation where much communication revolves around this individual… but, if the average worker at XYZ corp implemented open email (or just deleting the CCed aspect of it), I think it would come off as arrogant and lazy to co-workers.

    That said, I like the idea of everyone being able to read everyone elses email. That would be a great time saver. You could handle privacy issues by allowing a carefully used “private” tag, but it would be great if email were public by default.

  • Darrel

    I spent two weeks on holiday last year and returned to over 2000 emails.I panicked and deleted the whole lot. The sense of freedom was fantastic but it was followed by a huge dose of guilt. Happily,only three of the original mailers came back to me.

  • William

    Open email would work well for people at the top of a decision hierarchy, but those at the bottom my not find it useful except to their direct peers. Still, an interesting idea.

    As for dealing with many messages that refer to one another en masse, the mechanism I would use is threads. I don’t know how many email clients support threading, but I find it an essential feature of mutt. If I am late to reading a thread, I can skip to the last message, and I can delete by thread easily.

  • Andrew Dever

    It seems risky to me to delete CC’s especially when a lot of the time people use CC as proof of a decision.

    We have a system in place at my company where we have email addresses for certain departments, it works well, keeps the information relevant and everyone that needs to be kept in the loop is. Not to sure how well this would work in larger organisations though, as Andrew commented it may be beneficial for executives but not that beneficial for other employees with less ‘pull’.

  • Kurien

    I have always wondered why we have “personal” email accounts for official emails we send & receive. I think email accounts should be role-based whereever possible. This would permit it to be open. In an information/knowledge driven organization it is an excellent way to share business knowledge.

    Unfortunately such openness is generally avoided to provide a sense of power to people who fill these roles and for these people to be able to better control those who work under them.

    There are numerous benefits with open access to information exchanged for eg minimise fraud, encourage transparency, reduce monopoly, increase awareness

  • Webby

    So called “open mail” is the norm where I work, with the following results:

    - To ensure that Managers are kept informed, low priority status report-type information, is sent as a “To” email rather than “Cc”.

    - This increases the number of emails being received by the Managers, who are overwhelmed with more email than they can read, let alone ever process effectively

    - To keep up with the Manager’s email, Administrative staff are assigned responsibility for reading and filtering and taking appropriate action (i.e. no action, respond, refer to someone) in response to email, for which they frequently don’t have the knowledge to make informed decisions

    - When an error happens, either due to inactivity or inappropriate action, the Manager has a great excuse; she/he didn’t read the email.

    Just like phonecalls, snail mail and personal visits, email is communication path between two people. I think it’s time people are held accountable to use it effectively. “Open email” does not break down walls. It builds them bigger and stronger than ever.

  • K

    Why not just use a NNTP server? They can be used by email-like readers, and also as a web based forum if you want.

  • http://www.roughtype.com Nick Carr

    If the goal is to make email even more boring than it already is, this should do the trick.

  • http://bsjpark.blogspot.com/ brian

    In general I think there will be more risk then positive outcome unless you want other people to take care of most of the work. I’m more hand on guy who rather take care of myself.

  • http://pop Phurman Lama

    Dear Sir/ madam

    i want to my private email use in the market so

    Regards
    Lama

  • http://www.prlinl.com Phurman Lama

    Dear Sir/ madam

    i want to my private email use in the market so i want to open new email : info@prlinternational.com. if you give to permission.

    Regards
    Lama

  • http://www.prlinl.com Phurman Lama

    Dear Sir/ madam

    i want to my private email use in the market so i want to open new email : info@prlinternational.com. if you give to permission.

    Regards
    Lama

  • http://www.prlinl.com Phurman Lama

    I have always wondered why we have “personal” email accounts for official emails we send & receive. I think email accounts should be role-based whereever possible. This would permit it to be open. In an information/knowledge driven organization it is an excellent way to share business knowledge.

    Unfortunately such openness is generally avoided to provide a sense of power to people who fill these roles and for these people to be able to better control those who work under them.

    There are numerous benefits with open access to information exchanged for eg minimise fraud, encourage transparency, reduce monopoly, increase awareness

  • http://www.prlinl.com Phurman Lama

    I have always wondered why we have “personal” email accounts for official emails we send & receive. I think email accounts should be role-based whereever possible. This would permit it to be open. In an information/knowledge driven organization it is an excellent way to share business knowledge.

    Unfortunately such openness is generally avoided to provide a sense of power to people who fill these roles and for these people to be able to better control those who work under them.

    There are numerous benefits with open access to information exchanged for eg minimise fraud, encourage transparency, reduce monopoly, increase awareness