Sunday, November 01, 2009

#135: As Long As You Follow

Helloooo! I’m back!! Missed me? Oh, please, you’ll make me blush darlings!

So, you think you have it bad? You ain’t got shit! Seriously. Doing the rounds at the moment is this email purporting to be the ‘new’ email rules of a major department (can’t say which one it is, but I’m glad I’m not stuck there). At first I thought it was another one of those joke emails, but was told that, no, it's deadly serious and about to go into effect immediately. I did a bit of digging and it appears that the person who has come up with these rules isn’t fond of emails and firmly believes that emails are an utter waste of productivity. Naturally the staff disagree in private, but when pushed have to display the best qualities of sycophants and automatically agree, same as lemmings when push comes to leaping off cliffs.

Using the net to its utmost effectiveness and working in the Government aren’t always easy. Earlier this year I was part of a huge seminar to discuss the various aspects of using the internet to its greatest potential – in particular emails and social networking tools such as Twitter and FaceBook. It was generally accepted that upper level management frowned upon such sites as being a waste of work time and something that might, well, be fun at times. Can’t have that – remember the rules of Planet Express: “A Mindless Worker Is A Happy Worker – So Shut Up And Do Your Job!” That motto could easily be any number of Government departments at the best of times really.

I’ve always suspected that part of the overall reluctance of embracing new technology might be down to people just not being able to grasp it when it happens. I worked with a senior manager who, despite telling people how bloody good and smart he was, couldn’t stop referring to social networking sites as ‘My Facespacebook’. And he was serious. Someone once asked him about Twitter and he began to discuss small canaries. True story, swear to God. He also hated email. He’d site there and take people to task in public meetings by showcasing what sites they’d visited and at what times and would refuse to hear any explanation other than “Yes, I was visiting that site because I wanted to waste time, not because I was exploring Local Government policy surrounding the correct disposal of dead bodies found on premises, or the correct procedure to arrange police support whilst going into a dangerous situation”. And this was one of the policy markers in charge of telling all departments what was and wasn’t acceptable internet use and sites. Despite people showing that sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and on-line email sites could be, and are, used for networking, information gathering and sharing and remaining connected with people that you’d not normally see or have an opportunity to speak to, these sites, and others, are banned because of the perception that they’re only used to arrange dates between nerds and clueless 18 year old girls and for people to stalk their ex-partners. Which they might well be used for, and indeed are used for, but hey, by the time you reach a certain level you generally should be given some latitude and trust not to sit there talking to some hillbilly somewhere getting your rocks off when a project is overdue. What is the answer? Education. Pure and simple, it really is as easy as that. Educate both the employees and management about what should be used to save time. After all most Govt departments still rely on paper files for everything and storage/retrieval of said files will keep some people in gainful employment well into retirement age.

So what are these new email rules? I’ll list them with some commentary, just for yuks. Here goes….

1. Emails will not be looked at and answered immediately.
Ok, got that? So if your email alert goes off DO NOT RESPOND TO IT. Ignore it. And if you do happen to see the email in your preview pane by mistake, for God’s sake, don’t reply to it. Hold that job up for as long as possible. Wait for someone to call you into a meeting and point out that your productivity has dropped because you’re no longer allowed to read the emails you get telling you what needs doing let alone reply to them.

2. If a matter is urgent, then you will need to contact the person (telephone/in person/SMS) and tell them it is urgent so that they can deal with the matter.
In other words, don’t send them an email. It’s always better to leave a text or voice message on a phone with a flat battery or leave a message with someone who then goes to lunch, has a few bottles of pop and forgets to pass it onto you until the next day, if at all.

3. If you are important enough to be involved or need to make decisions, then you will be in the 'To' category, and not CC'd.
See rule 1. If you’re CC’d then you shouldn’t be reading the bloody email anyway. And if you are CC’d then clearly you’re plankton and have no place even thinking about reading the email, let alone actually reading it.

4. If you are CC'd into a message, then that will be dealt with at a lesser priority than if the message is 'To' you personally, (if at all).
Clearly. As we now know, if you are CC’d into a message then you have no place reading it, let alone replying.

5. The various functions of the system will be used if possible - eg Tasking, Calendar, Contacts, projects etc.
This one raised a lot of groans – if you stick your head out your window and face east you can hear a hundred voices all screaming, “That’s what I bloody well use Calendar and Contacts in Outlook for already!!!

6. The calendar will be used to make meetings with people whenever possible.
See above. This will be fun when someone asks if you want a coffee or an informal meeting. Make sure you put that in your calendar.

7. No response such as 'Thanks' or 'OK' will be required, unless the sender requests acknowledgement or confirmation that a task has been done.
I can hear it now, “I sent you an email, you could have at least acknowledged it you rude prick!” Hey, you could always try a return receipt, but then most places try that now - I ignore about 95% of them myself.

8. When you take a message, or only have a short statement to make, just put the message in the 'subject' line and at the end put 'EOM' (End Of Message). Then no-one will have to open the message to see what is required.
By now a lot of people have seen emails with subject lines saying things like, “Don’t Read This EOM”. My personal favourite was one saying, “This Email Is Important, Please Read And Respond EOM”, but under the rules I felt I wasn’t able to read the email as it clearly violated rules 1, 4, 7 (couldn’t reply with “Dickhead EOM”) and 8.

9. If you can link to where a document is then put the link in, not the document.
Now this is probably the most useful suggestion in this entire list. I can relate to this rules, as I’m sure we all can, especially after having systems hang or crash due to some clot insisting on sending an email with about 3gig of files attached (of which you might need one or two at the most and a link to where those files could be found.

10. You must put a 'subject' in the 'subject' line - do not leave it blank.
Would the phrase “EOM” be acceptable as a ‘subject’? I’m gonna try that and see if it confuses the masses, especially if I only CC people….

11. Put a message below your name block telling people you might not get to it straight away – "As I’m not always at my desk I only check my messages 2 or 3 times each day. If your email requires immediate attention please contact me on the phone number above - thank you."
Hang on, if you’re away from your desk then presumably you’re away from your phone? Not everyone has mobile phones issued. I’m forever away from my (new) desk and I’ve not got a mobile phone, so what that’d be telling people is, “I’m away from my desk, you can’t find me, you can’t reach me, I am Claude Raines. I am dead to you. I do not exist. In fact I am probably standing behind you right now. BOO!” Mind you such a message would only work if people ever bothered to read the message block, and if you’re sending an email then you can’t access the message block until you get a reply – and that’s assuming that you get a reply, because, frankly, with those rules in place I’d not be too sure if I should even read the email, let alone reply to it.

There’s some fun days ahead for people in that department. I expect that all communication both within and without the department will cease entirely. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for establishing guidelines and parameters for the correct usage of email, internet and so called ‘modern’ technology, but instead of leaving to a few technophobes in high places, why not consult with people who actually need to use this stuff on a daily basis and see what should be used, what shouldn’t be used and the ways to use it. But that day is clearly a few decades away at this point, so, until then, I expect that most people will keep on keeping on and generally ignore such email rules, especially if they’re not yet departmental policy.


Anonymous said...

I used to work for the Government, in Disability, so I can relate to a lot of what you write about.

Now I work for an NGO in a mental health program - comparative bliss.

Anonymous said...

where's post 134?

Anonymous said...

my eyes are bleedling,,,WTF

Anonymous said...

Good to have you back.

A Rather Ordinary, Non-Descript Person said...

Post #134 is missing for the time being. It may return at a later date...

David Drury said...

Actually point 3 should be the way e-mail is intended. To, you are required to act, CC, its FYI. I have a manager who will take no action on a CC at all.

I agree with you on 9

I think 10 is excellent policy, I hate trying to search thorough e-mails with no subject, you should get a rough idea from the subject what the e-mail is about.

To me this reads like something typical from government, pulled from several best practice guides on e-mail usage and taken 50% of the good with 50% of the worst ideas.