This article is the second in a two part series by Boomer Consulting on understanding the best way to manage your e-mail flow. Please also see AccountingWEB's recent article on how anti-spam efforts may inhibit YOUR ability to send mail.
In part one, e-mail management was defined and the first two layers necessary for a comprehensive e-mail management plan - the integrity layer and the warehouse layer were discussed. Part 2 will be a discussion on the third and final tier - the wetware layer and some useful tips and tricks to make your personal e-mail management easier.
The Wetware Layer
The wetware layer is composed of our end-users. The best way to control this layer is through the establishment of written formal e-mail policies and procedures, then training your end-users to these established guidelines.
At a minimum, a formal e-mail policy should contain: written standards the firm deems as acceptable use of the e-mail system; the fact that a user's e-mail may be monitored; the security measure the end-user is expected to use when transmitting certain information; and if possible, a list of recommendations for e-mail etiquette. It is important to ensure that employees are aware of the policies, where to locate them and that they will be enforced. If employees abuse the policies, they should face disciplinary actions as specified within the policy.
Acceptable Use Definition
There are the four areas that should be addressed. Here are some sample languages for each area:
Authorized Usage of Firm E-Mail System:
[FIRM NAME] messaging systems generally must be used only for business activities. Incidental personal use is permissible so long as:
(a) It does not consume more than a trivial amount of resources.
(b) It does not interfere with staff productivity.
(c) It does not preempt any business activity.
Users are forbidden from using [FIRM NAME] messaging systems for charitable endeavors, private business activities, or amusement/entertainment purposes unless expressly approved by the [Managing Partner / CEO] or [his / her] representative. Employees are reminded that the use of corporate resources, including electronic communications, should never create either the appearance or the reality of inappropriate use.
An environment conducive to business:
A user who harasses or makes defamatory remarks shall bear the full responsibility for his or her actions. Further, by using these systems, users agree that individuals who transmit such remarks shall bear sole responsibility for their actions. Users agree that [FIRM NAME]'s role in managing these systems is only as an information carrier, and they will never consider transmission through these systems as an endorsement of said transmission by [FIRM NAME].
Many of [FIRM NAME]computers provide access to outside networks, both public and private, which furnish electronic mail, information services, bulletin boards, conferences, etc. Users are advised that they may encounter material that may be considered offensive or objectionable in nature or content. Users are further advised that [FIRM NAME] does not assume responsibility for the contents of any of these outside networks.
The user agrees to comply with the acceptable use guidelines presented in this document and other documents for outside networks or services they may access through [FIRM NAME] computer systems.
Further, the user agrees to follow proper etiquette on outside networks. Documents regarding etiquette are available through the system administrators and through specific individual networks.
The user agrees never to attempt to transmit, or cause to be transmitted, any message in which the origination is deliberately misleading (except for those outside services which may conceal identities as part of the service). The user agrees that, in the unlikely event that someone does transmit, or cause to be transmitted, a message that is inconsistent with an environment conducive to business or with a misleading origination, the person who performed the transmission will be solely accountable for the message, not [FIRM NAME], which is acting solely as an information carrier.
An environment free of illegal or malicious acts:
The user agrees never to use a system to perform an illegal or malicious act. Any attempt to increase the level of access to which he or she is authorized, or any attempt to deprive other authorized users of resources or access to any [FIRM NAME]s computer system shall be regarded as malicious and may be treated as an illegal act.
A secure environment:
Any user who finds a possible security lapse on any system is obligated to report it to the system administrators.
Knowledge of passwords or of loopholes in computer security systems shall not be used to damage computing resources, obtain extra resources, take resources from another user, gain unauthorized access to resources or otherwise make use of computing resources for which proper authorization has not been given.
Users are responsible for backup of their own data.
A good e-mail policy should also inform the end-user as to the firm's view on the monitoring of both inbound and outbound messages. Generally a simple statement informing the user that their e-mail is a business tool and as such, use of e-mail may be subject to monitoring for security and/or network management reasons.
They also should be informed that e-mail on its own is not secure and that a message sent via e-mail is not guaranteed to be private. Due to this fact, the firm should develop guidelines as to what information should not be sent without encryption and what information should not be delivered via e-mail period.
Sample confidentiality clause:
While reasonable attempts have been made to ensure the privacy of your account(s) and your electronic mail, there is no guarantee that your account(s) or electronic mail is private. The systems are not secure, nor are they connected to a secure network. It is entirely possible that in the course of normal system administration activities, your e-mail and any data stored in your account(s) will become visible to the system administrator. Furthermore, in case of a request from law enforcement authorities, your e-mail and other data may be made available to the requesting agency.
15 Tips for E-Mail Etiquette:
The last item that should be included within the e-mail usage policy, but can be handled as a separate training item, is a list of common-sense recommendations for e-mail etiquette. These serve as a reminder to the user to stop and think while they are working with their e-mail, and hopefully make the entire firm more productive.
- Use a brief but useful subject line. One that will make sense to both sender and recipient.
- Give cues as to the importance of the message in the subject line; i.e. URGENT! Or FYI.
- Use the spellchecker.
- Don't send e-mail messages that are longer than one screen.
- Use color or multiple fonts in moderation.
- Send links instead of attachments whenever possible.
- If you send attachments, be careful of the size.
- CC only people who really need the information.
- Reply to the sender, not to all. Also use discretion in sending messages to entire mailing lists.
- Add value when forwarding messages - include your comments or the desired action you want the recipient to take.
- When possible, send a message that is only a subject line so recipients don't have to open the e-mail to read a single line. End the subject line with <EOM>, the acronym for End of Message.
- Do not open suspicious attachments.
- Do not forward chain e-mail letters.
- Do not forward top -10 lists and jokes (unless they are really funny). If you do, label them as such in the subject line.
- If you don't have anything to say, don't reply.
The final task in working with the wetware layer is training. Every employee should receive a minimum of four hours of training in the firm's standard e-mail client. This will allow them to be as productive as possible while working with what will soon become the standard means of communication. The firm must also schedule and hold annual training on the firm's e-mail policy and any updates to it. It is imperative that this takes place, or the time and effort invested in the creation of the policy will be for naught.
As you can see, the establishment of a comprehensive e-mail management program is more than just hardware and software. It is to protect us and make us more productive therefore more profitable. Start now by addressing all three layers. If you have any questions please contact me at [email protected].
Eric D. McMillen, MCSE, CCA
Boomer Consulting, Inc.
Manhattan, KS 66502
Email: [email protected]
Eric D. McMillen is a Consultant and Technology Director at Boomer Consulting, Inc., an organization devoted to the application of computer technology and management consulting, located in Manhattan, Kansas.
On a technical level, Eric is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and a Citrix Certified Administrator. Eric is also certified as a Systems Administrator by Sequent Computer Systems. He also has over ten years of experience in network and imaging system administration.
He has extensive experience in leadership positions in the training, management and logistics fields. Eric is also essential in the research and development of new applications and systems. He is the key technical contact for all of Boomer Consulting's clients.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from The University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.