Saturday, June 9, 2012

Working Smarter: Do You Keep Track of Your Email Messages?

Now that email is taking over many of the previous business communication functions, the chances of losing valuable documentation has increased enormously. Documents that are required for legal reasons, taxation purposes, employment-related, or customer relations purposes need to be stored where they can be found. Alarmingly, they aren't.

Email is now increasingly involved in legal cases and required as evidence. Searching through email files trying to find something can be very costly, one firm estimates it as up to 15,000 pounds (UK) on average. That's an alarming amount of money to squander trying to find files.

Think about the employees who have an individual email account and database folder; when they depart the firm, the folder usually just sits around. If files contained in that folder are tax related, they may be subject to a law that says they have to be available for audit for up to seven years. In four year's time when the tax man comes knocking, where will you find them?

To prevent possible crises brought about by misplaced files, firms must have a well designed filing structure and a system to capture data. This would include a policy for handling files left over by employees who leave, periodical transferring of files and auditing.

In the days of memoranda, minutes and letters, a file copy was always placed on a physical file. Email doesn't tend to be so tight as a letter or two, it can be six or 10 successive emails corresponding about the same issue. To resolve this issue, it makes sense to have a standardised filing system and file naming convention with every staff member placing their emails in relevant files.

For example, a rule would require a person originating an email about a specific business activity eg, Project H, to assign a file name initially and all subsequent email would be filed accordingly. Either during, or at the end of the project or audit period, all related emails could be filed in the related folder. As many email providers charge for storage volume, the email should be filed on folders on the company's servers.

Somewhere in the email sent back and forwards, the folder details should be included. This could be a reference line at the top of every email message eg, PH109 (For Project H, project 109. This would enable searching on that reference line when endeavouring to collate all email related to that project.

So, there are some things to think about. How does the email in your organisation get managed at present? Is yours a sophisticated system or one likely to lead to failure if specific files are required? What systems have you seen that are exemplars of best practice?



  1. Yikes. I took a look at my email accounts to see if I am practising what I'm preaching and shock, horror, I found a lot of stuff that should have been filed. If I, Mr Perfect (just jokin) has a problem, I can imagine what a mess many of you are in. I use Gmail which provides a very good labelling and filing system with heaps of space. I also use Group Mail ( for marketing purposes.

  2. Here's an article at Technorati about a similar topic.


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