In this episode of “The Digital Broker” podcast, Steve and Ryan discuss how the unrestricted use of email can lead to lost productivity within an agency or brokerage.
By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- How Email can serve as a productivity drain
- How underutilization of email features and tools can contribute to loss of productivity
- The importance of being trained in email functionality
- The specific tools that are available in Outlook which can enhance productivity
- How to design an email reduction strategy
Over the past few decades, email has grown into an integral part of our personal and professional lives. In all areas of business, because of speed and ease of use, email has largely supplanted the use of written letters. Like other common technologies, it has become so much a part of our business world that it is often taken for granted. In this regard, it often can control the agenda of the user rather than the other way around, resulting in diminished productivity. In this podcast, Ryan and Steve offer practical advice for agencies to take back control of their email habits and implement practices that increase productivity in the workplace.
What is the Effect on Productivity in an Agency Due to Email Use? (1:19)
The existence and use of email are ubiquitous in both society in general as well as within agencies. Email is important and there are significant nuances to be considered as to how agents and brokers use email in their organizations. Due to the pervasiveness of email as a business tool in the insurance industry, most organizations do not give email much thought. Like the air that we breathe, email is simply there, existing hidden within plain sight in the fabric of the business. The commonality of email is part of the problem. The use of email as one of the primary communication tools for clients, business prospects, underwriters, and others has grown faster than businesses can manage it.
How Can the Use of Email Negatively Impact Agency Productivity? (3:10)
The method by which email is currently managed is the largest productivity drain within many organizations. This productivity drain is due to two factors: Firstly, the general lack of structure of organizational email procedures. Within organizations, everyone usually handles the processing, forwarding, deletion, and retention of their own email with few or no guidelines. Secondly, there is a lack of thinking about email as simply one of many channels of communication. In most cases, agency staff treats email with far more urgency than is necessary. A mindset has been created within organizations where the staff feels a constant need to monitor the arrival of email. This mindset has created a sense of urgency mandating a need to know not just the moment emails arrive, but also the sense of a need to respond immediately. The proliferation of this mindset is the crux of the problem.
In an agency, the pervasiveness of email is coupled with its high visibility as a communication tool. As with telephones, if the email system becomes nonfunctional, there is immediate notice throughout the organization. If email becomes inoperative or even slow, the staff can easily lose faith in the system. Trust in the email system is critical. Even if the problem resides elsewhere, a problem with email receipt or delivery can be organizationally paralyzing.
What Impact Does Underutilized Email Tools Have On Reduced Productivity? (4:50)
A major challenge is ensuring that email does not distract from the work needed to be done. Most agencies use Outlook as their email client coupled with MS-Exchange as the email server. Many tools and features available to better manage email are often unknown or unused. Even when the functionality is used, many of the capabilities of these software’s tools are not employed for maximum benefit. Organizations generally do not think about the need to manage email. Because of this lack of thought, organizations compound the problem by not focusing on putting the productivity capabilities of the software to full use.
One contribution to the problem of productivity is directly related to the process of receiving email. Generally, when a new email is received, an alert prompt is activated. The form of the prompt is sometimes a sound, other times a pop-up box, and in some situations, the email actually opens on the user’s screen. These types of prompts result in the member immediately seeing new emails, which are often highlighted in bold or even in red. While the user is immediately notified, this arrival of new mail also serves as a distraction, diverting attention and causing work to be delayed or even not done correctly because of loss of focus. It is important to begin to have conversations with staff about email. Organizations that have created policies or at least begun a discussion as to how to handle email are taking the first steps on a road toward greater productivity.
How Can Training Improve Productivity with Email? (6:45)
A perfect opportunity for providing training on email tools and settings is when an agency is upgrading its software. For example, during an upgrade from Office 2010 to Office 2016, training should be scheduled to familiarize staff with new features and functions. Optimally, training should be a comprehensive plan but even a quick class providing an overview of new functionality can prove useful. Without training or at least an overview to new features, most people will continue to work exactly as they had been. It is critical to employ a top-down approach to communicate management’s view of how email should be utilized within the organization. While email policies may vary from department to department or even function to function, it is important that management set the tone and communicate a cogent plan. For example, specific policies such as how emails are attached, which emails are attached, and who should receive which emails are integral to a well thought out email management plan.
How To Take Advantage of Emai Software’s Settings (7:56)
In most cases, email alerts should be turned off. This will be disliked too many, but most agency staffers do not need to know of the immediate arrival of an email. In many agencies, there is a belief that the client expects an immediate response. That belief is usually due to a culture that has been created by the agency and should be discouraged. Obviously, some emails do require an immediate response, but these are exceptions. People who are doing heads-down work should not be interrupted by email constantly throughout the day. This is another situation where management needs to set policy and educate staff on specific expectations.
Employees should be trained to go to their email at regular intervals rather than the widespread practice of immediately opening mail. The intervals could vary, in some cases being on a fifteen-minute basis while in other situations, an hour may be appropriate. By establishing intervals where emails are processed, the user is more focused and therefore more productive.
Using Email “Rules” and Archiving (9:45)
Another valuable tool that can improve email productivity is the establishment and using “Outlook Rules.” Rules can add a powerful functionality to automatically process certain emails that do not require manual intervention. Mail which lends itself to an application of an Outlook Rule can include such things as newsletters, notices from carriers, routine mail from providers and other mail that does not require immediate action. These are important emails, but not ones with great urgency. The proper creation of rules will result in moving mail to specific folders where they can be accessed and dealt with at the proper time.
In most offices, only about ten percent of users know about or use rules. It is important to realize that these rules are powerful tools and when used in an agency setting, they should be tested and verified to ensure that they are working properly. Improperly created rules can do more harm than good. It can be said that email is the software most used in the office but the one that is the least fully understood.
Using email software as a “filing cabinet” is another bad habit by agency and agency staff. Most agencies do not dictate how to use email internally or mandate storage techniques. The use of email as a filing cabinet can be incredibly confusing if someone else must access the information, such as during an employee vacation or illness. It is likely that the person accessing the mailbox would not be able to tell which emails have been acted upon. From an E&O perspective, it is critical to have procedures for documents, including what should be attached and saved. If the agency has a conduit for storing email, then it is easy to implement effective processes. There is software such as ARCHIVER which can be used for storage and retention.
How Can Implementation of an Email Reduction Strategy Increase Productivity? (14:00)
Another effective productivity tool is the establishment of an email reduction strategy. This involves the creation of processes which ensure that the most relevant emails get to the agency staff.
Efficiencies can be gained by moving internal communications to an internal collaboration tool. In addition, an aggressive spam filter eliminating useless emails can also reduce mail seen by staff, saving valuable time. This type of process cuts down inbox clutter by moving a lot of internal personal communication such as non-business activities to the collaboration tool.
Organizations can also implement DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance). The DMARC helps ensure that the source of an email is safe and non-malicious. This can cut down phishing attacks and ensure deliverability. This is done at the DNS level. Many federal organizations mandate this type of security and it is rapidly becoming the de facto standard.
In addition, agencies can add internal communication channels outside of the email system, such as Slack. Other internal options include Microsoft Teams. These types of channels become popular because there are a lot of office activities that people do not want to miss.
In summary – to minimize productivity lost due to email, an agency should implement procedures to minimize email distraction of staff. To gain greater productivity, the agency should emphasize the learning and use of Outlook, Rules, Settings, Quick Parts, and Quick Steps.
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