Note: This post reflects my personal opinions, and not those of my employer.
You know that you work at a big company when the Wall Street Journal covers your email problems.
Thomson Reuters is a conglomerate with about 50,000 employees across the globe.
Thomson Reuters is different than other conglomerates like Berkshire Hathaway or Samsung, because it has a standardized set of operating principles, consistent branding across divisions, and shared IT and HR resources.
My company apparently also has massive shared listservs.
I first noticed the problem after glancing at my email around 8 a.m. yesterday. I somehow had 54 emails despite being at inbox zero the night before.
Overnight email pileups aren’t unusual, and typically mean one of three things:
- A technical problem happened overnight and resulted in multiple status updates from engineering.
- There was an automated email push to customers (which I get copied on as an account manager).
- A customer experienced an after-hours issue and multiple teams were roped in to solve it.
A quick glance at the email string revealed that the emails were due to a fourth problem: some guy named Vince inadvertently emailed a company-wide listserv.
As an account and project manager, I have to be hyper-aware of what is going on in my division. This means I get hundreds of emails per day.
I am also on a lot of listservs, so irrelevant email chains find their way to my inbox all the time. (I’m sure this happens at every large company.)
I didn’t think Vince’s email mistake was anything special. I simply right-clicked one of the emails, created an Outlook rule to auto-delete the offending chain, and moved on with my day.
About an hour later I received an instant message from one of my coworkers: “We are trending on Twitter!”
#ReutersReplyAllGate was a thing.
By noon were are on the Wall Street Journal.
Poor Vince was probably mortified.
There were six distinct sets of actors in #ReutersReplyAllGate:
- Vince, the original offender.
- People asking why they were copied on the email chain.
- People requesting to be removed from the email chain.
- People demanding that others PLEASE STOP REPLYING TO THE EMAIL CHAIN.
- People trolling the email chain: “SPAAAAAM PARTY!!”
- People complaining about the email chain on Twitter.
By complaining about those proliferating the email chain, many of my coworkers revealed that they did not know how to set up a simple auto-delete rule in Outlook.
I’m sure everyone learned that trick really quickly yesterday.
Taking Control of Your Inbox
My prior position was a relatively low-email job.
I had to quickly learn how to automate my email management upon getting promoted. (The sheer volume of daily emails would make it impossible to do my job otherwise.)
It appears that many of my coworkers have not experienced the need to deal with similar volumes of emails.
Hence the “reply all” email chain from hell.
I was able to figure out automated email actions (and many other things) because of an amazing piece of advice that I came across as a 12-year-old while trolling Photoshop help discussion boards:
“If you’re spending too much time on a routine action while using a program, someone probably has already figured out a way to automate that task. Stop wasting your time and figure out what that solution is.”
Remember that successfully using technology at work means:
- Communicating efficiently.
- Not wasting the time of your coworkers, and,
- Preventing others from wasting your time.
The solution to a work problem is not an all-caps reply-all email or whiny Twitter hashtag – it’s usually as simple as taking the 15 seconds to update a program setting so you can move on with your day.