RM 101: What is Email Management, its Challenges and  Best Practices?

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We’re going to venture the likely guess that you have sent at least one email today. Or, the very least,  checked your inbox at some point before end of day. Email has become one of the main forms of communication across aspects of businesses. With key business decisions discussed  and important information are regularly shared by email, the inbox is highly business critical and should be managed properly.

While many of us dream of getting to inbox zero- no we’re not talking about sorting and cleaning out your inbox! Although if you’re interested in that, we have an article with tips for efficiently organizing your inbox to a level that would make Marie Kondo proud.

What do we mean when we say email management? Today we'll cover what email management is, why it's important, some common challenges that organizations can run into and best practices around email management that can be implemented to simplify this process.

What is email management?

As the go-to form for conducting business, it’s common for inboxes to become a buildup of attachments, dialogue regarding process, sales and other critical business-critical content. 

Enter email management.

Many will see their ever growing inbox and think filing their emails within their email application or  removing emails from a server and saving them to a repository will solve  their problems. But this is not a long term solution.

Just like any other  business documentation, email is considered  an official record. And as a record, emails should be captured and managed within the guidelines of the organization's corporate records management policies and practices.

Email management is more than just inbox sorting: it refers to organizations capturing and managing emails created and received by employees. Just as with other business records, classification schemes, retention periods and access controls can be applied to manage emails.  Email metadata associated with the emails should also be captured to allow the information to be managed and accessed by employees with proper permissions.

Why is email management important?

With the mass quantities of email sent and received on the  daily within an organization, email management is both a records management issue and a necessary business process. These high volumes of emails in inboxes, sent folders and deleted items folders have the potential of putting organizations at risk and adversely impacting the performance of email servers in the organization. 

A research report by AIIM Market Intelligence found that nearly 40% of organizations stored business email described as “important” in personal folders. Emails not being captured in the organization’s records management system for official records can pose some of the following risks:

  • Siloed approach (individual employees manage their own emails) may result in business-critical data being left out of reach or destroyed once the employee leaves or retires
  • Inability to provide evidence of an action taken or decision made 
  • Potential loss of critical records and corporate memory 
  • Inefficient discovery and access to these records (whether for fulfilling a  FOIA request, placing a litigation hold or conduction a general business inquiry)
  • Difficult for organizations to meet their legal preservation requirements in the event of audits, litigations and government investigations

Email management is also provides additional benefits, such as:

  • Communication history, including views to entire history of communications with any coworker, customer, prospect or business partner.

  •  Good for incident tracking, with all email messages (inbound and outbound) relating to a specific incident tracked automatically and viewed as a single unit of correspondence.
  • By properly managing emails, employees can use reporting systems to provide valuable insights into an organization's communications trends and efficiency.

4 common challenges of email management

1. Volume

Email is treated differently than others,  often times to the seemingly overwhelming volume of messages involved on a daily basis. Studies show that the average employee sends and receives anywhere from 100‐200+ messages per day. This volume of information  may seem to be a challenge.  First, email is orders of magnitude higher volume than any other type of content in most organizations. In addition, everyone uses it, sometimes as a filing system rather than as a simple communications mechanism.

2. Work, Spam, Personal

The volume of messages, coupled with the challenge to separate spam, personal communication and routine notifications from content with long‐term business value makes this a difficult problem for many organizations. And this is before we address the proliferation of attachments and versions so common to collaborative processes.

3.  Complex (attachments and conversations)

  • Emails can have attachments representing any number of different file formats and versions.
  • Many emails contain multiple topics in a single message, and some may contain both record and non‐record content.
  • CC: and BCC: make email threads very complex and incomplete.

4. Storage and Expenditure

The quantity and size of email is growing beyond the ability of many organizations to effectively administer it. This not only puts the organizations at risk but also  can get costly regarding storage and expenditure as the high volumes require storage for management.

5 best practices for organizational email management

1. Automate as Much as Possible

Products that have advanced email integration can help with the challenges unique to email by allowing system administrators to automate more of the capture activities. Enabling a “file on send” feature lets organizations capture email as it is being sent, relieving the capture burden from the end user and helping meet any rigorous compliance requirements. Many systems also have automated capture upon receipt tools or integrated email archive utilities that can capture incoming email and automatically file it based on message metadata.

2. Email Management System to Help with Storage and Expense

The quantity and size of email is growing beyond the ability of many organizations to effectively administer it. Email integrations can help tremendously reduce storage volumes and duplication issues by allowing information workers to email links to documents already managed in a content system. This reduces the need to send copies – as email attachments typically are – repeatedly around the organization. Sending links to managed content also helps respect security on confidential documents, and ensures only current and approved versions of documents are viewed.

3. Manage Email by Role

One approach to automating email management is to manage it by role. This approach uses the email archiving approach to capturing everything, but it is only used for certain roles or users who are more likely to complete transactions or decisions using email. In that sense it reduces the distinction between records and non‐records, and in fact the bulletin notes that capture of non‐records or personal messages is likely. 
This approach is much easier to understand and easier for users to comply with – because it’s a small subset of users, and they don’t have to do anything to comply. Instead, email is captured automatically.

4. Categorize Emails

Not all emails need to be kept. Only those emails that are official records must be retained: and this is a step that individual employees can step in to sort for themselves within their inboxes.

To effectively manage emails, staff should identify what is an official record and what is a transitory record. Official records include documented evidence business transactions, activities and decisions of an organization. They must be saved and stored securely so that they will be readily available to those who need them and are authorized to access them for future business, legal or archival purposes.  Meanwhile, a transitory record has only immediate or short term value to the organization and are not required for future business, legal or archival purposes.  These emails typically include personal and social messages, room booking and meeting reminders, ads, etc.

5. Retaining Emails in Electronic Format

Depending on the functionality of the electronic information management software, emails may be automatically transferred into a file or folder, or “dragged and dropped” into an appropriate file or folder. The retention and disposition of records may be set automatically in accordance with the organization’s records retention and disposition schedule, or the schedule may need to be applied manually to the records.

6. Train Staff

Email management should not fall on the shoulders of records managers: this is a process that requires ongoing training and support for staff. As part of their training, staff should be informed of the organization’s corporate email management policy and be able to identify what emails to keep as official records and what emails can be deleted; where official email records are to be stored; and that emails subject to an access to information request or litigation hold must not be disposed of. Most importantly, staff must be aware of how and where official record emails are to be captured and retained.

7. Have Exit Protocols In-Place

When an employee is retiring or otherwise leaving the organization, the employee should ensure that all official email records are transferred from their email mailboxes to the appropriate records management system before they leave. This step should be included in the organization’s checklist for exiting employees.

Conclusion

Email systems were designed to provide fast, efficient communications. Yet, email plays an important role in organizational performance and should be properly managed. The trouble is that capturing, managing and making the most of email is an increasing challenge as volume, variety and velocity of email continues to grow. Best practices such as selecting the proper email management system, automating, and having an exit strategy can help organizations account for email as a primary component of their information governance and content management efforts.

Want help putting these best practices into motion for your organization? Download our free Email Management information package below, or reach out to us with your questions! We create systems such as  Collabspace, which automates retention, classification and email workflows  for compliant and secure content management in the Cloud, plus increased productivity for your team! Find out more:

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