Using ESNs to Ramp Up Onboarding

One of the great challenges of a new job is trying to figure out everything that happened before you arrived in the position. If you’re lucky, your predecessor (that is, if your position even existed before), will have left some tips, tricks, suggested connections, and an outline of what you’re supposed to do. Sometimes you’re not so lucky, and day one really is just sitting down and trying to figure out how you got yourself into this position, and what you’re supposed to do next.

When I started my current job, my on boarding existing almost exclusively of forwarded emails of programs and discussions that had occurred over the course of the previous year. To be honest, most of these dozens of forwarded emails are still sitting in a folder of my email account.

Clear communication about what has been happening at the organization prior to your arrival is a key component of on boarding. So how can organizations use ESNs to ramp up the on boarding process?

I was trying to explain Slack to a friend last week, making the case to a die-hard email lover that Slack actually is useful and can do things that email cannot! My friend works at a startup, which to me seems like the perfect place for such a tool. The reason is twofold. First, startups are constantly ideating. Very little is set in stone, and there is constant communication occurring to make decisions and explore new ways of executing. Second, startups, especially this one, are constantly hiring new staff, and have not developed on boarding or training manuals . They expect new staff to hit the ground running.

Email lovers have a hard time escaping from their inbox. For these people it’s easier to send a message one on one and get an answer. it takes a lot more effort and trust to post the same message in a stream or feed by it may be seen by more people than they know at that moment in time.

Imagine if these new startup staff members had access to all the conversations and communication that have taken place in the short tenure of the organization. Through a tool such as slack, that new staff member can search for key terms, or just read through how the discussion has progressed over time. By moving these discussions to a shared platform, the new employee has an easier time learning what has occurred, and where people are headed next. The new employee also does not have an email account filled with forwards that hopefully encompass all the necessary information.

To me this makes the prospect of on boarding in a small and new organization seem so much easier and faster. While there is still incredible value in building out policies and procedures through training manuals, when you’re trying just to keep moving forward in the short and urgent time, using an ESN may help to keep employees running.

What if I never get to Inbox Zero?

Sometimes the need to get to Inbox Zero is oppressive. Each morning I spend my time trying to whittle through the things that have come through overnight, thinking through what needs a response immediately, what I should sit on for a few days, how to tag and categorize each message, and what to just toss. This process takes me about an hour every morning, for one of my best friends, this takes hours every day, in the morning, the afternoon, and late into the evening.

I find myself asking, how does the time we spend alone in email detract from our ability to innovate, try new things, and push our work forward?

This article in The Atlantic outlines a study by McKinsey, which says that we spend 28% of our time reading and responding to email. I believe it. I find myself making ambitious task lists, each morning thinking that I will be able to accomplish and infinite amount of work during the day. I always over estimate. Even when my inbox is closed, the telltale ding from my phone indicating a message pulls me back from whatever I was trying to do.

Now, of course, reducing the time spent on email to zero is unrealistic at this point in time, but what would you do in your job if you got almost a quarter more time? What kind of problems could you address, and what kind of innovative solutions might you arrive at? How is the urgency of replying to messages bogging down your work habits?

In my own job, if I had 25% more time I would spend more time in face to face human interaction. Extra hours would free up time to bounce ideas around with coworkers building out new programming or processes for content delivery. If I could spend 25% less time sorting through often redundant and only slightly important information delivery, I see the sky as being the limit for communication and the sparks that create great new ideas.

The Rise and Fall? of Email

Like many, I have a love-hate relationship with my inboxes. Yes, inboxes. In traditional email accounts alone, there’s one for each school, work and personal. Inboxes filled with shopping coupons, credit scores, political campaign donation requests, listserv summaries, urgent requests to resend an email, one-line “thank you’s” and too much more.

In this recent article, Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic explores our love-hate relationship with email, and how it has managed to persist for fifty years. Despite the addition of enterprise social networks, and all the cloud platforms you can count, we just can’t quit our email accounts.

According to LaFrance, the average white collar worker checks their email 77 times a day. 77 times. In a 9-5 job this amounts to once every six minutes. The amount of time we spend checking email every day, trying to stay ahead of the flood of incoming messages, discourages employees from engaging in alternate platforms. After all, who wants to add yet another daily digest of alerts and messages to their inbox each morning?

Real time communications, facilitated through platforms such as Slack or Ryver seem to offer the perfect escape from email, maintaining communication with colleagues without clogging up our inboxes. According to LaFrance, “the idea behind Slack is that, when you’re addressing the same core group of people via email all the time anyway, you might as well have a shared digital space so that people can dip in and out of the conversation as needed.” Are real time communication platforms the solution? Or are they just another inbox shrouded as innovation?

Over the past few years many media leaders have posited that real time communications and employee social networks are the way of the future, going so far as to declare that real time communication will overtake business email by the end of 2016. With billions of emails sent and received every day, the idea is alluring. Integrating the fatigue of the daily slog through email with platforms that facilitate collaboration and knowledge management sounds almost too good to be true. Will the zero inbox soon be attainable?