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October 21, 2015

Tame The Email Beast: Slack!

However tempting it may be to consider quitting email altogether, it’s just not practical anymore.  Luckily, you can find an alternative approach to managing it, so it doesn’t have to manage you!

New Orleans College Prep, a small charter management organization, is taking innovative steps to help Tame the Email Beast that go beyond the typical and unrealistic expectations to “respond to everything in 24 hours,” or “get to Inbox Zero.” They are seeking to – literally – use other channels.

In an incredibly compelling blog post, Ben, the CEO of New Orleans College Prep Schools (NOCP), writes, “Our belief in the importance of work/life balance has led us to the automatic shutdown of internal e-mail after regular business hours.  A large majority of our team has subscribed to this protocol with overwhelming support.”

Here’s the protocol: “NOCP email (@nolacollegeprep.org) accounts are blocked from sending messages between 7:00 PM – 6:00 AM, Monday – Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday. During email shutdown times, staff can still work on their inboxes using Outlook’s offline mode, but delivery is delayed until business hours. After hours, NOCP managers are expected not to initiate contact with their direct reports unless it is an emergency.”

Now you may be wondering, WHY go so far as to shut off email? Can’t people have the self-discipline to simply NOT look? I will say, I consider myself a decently disciplined person and I find turning email off really tough.

Ben’s blog post underscores the major points of a recent Harvard Business Review article I sent out: “On busy days, it is natural to find a quiet nighttime hour to catch up on e-mail.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  However, while you are easing your own anxiety by clearing out your inbox, you are unintentionally creating anxiety for multiple people on the other end of the messages when the recipient’s smartphone starts flashing and distracts a colleague from reading a book to his/her own child.  How often do we consider the impact of our late-night e-mailing on our colleagues?  Very rarely…”

The NOCP team took it a step further by setting up an alternative channel for communication through Slack. Slack is basically a chat app, similar to many you have seen before, but it also allows you to Archive, Like, and Search. And, it integrates with Google, Dropbox and more. Intrigued? I was. PS If you are looking at various messaging options, this recent Wall Street Journal article explains them well.

NOCP got really clear about which forms of communication to use when. In case people become confused, NOCP has written Communication Agreements that spell out which platform to use when. Here’s an excerpt they kindly shared:

Difference between email and SlackBen and the team at NOCP were kind enough to even share a few Slack channels with us. Here’s one of my favorites, the #joy channel. How great to scroll through these non-urgent messages during the day!

Joy Channel Screenshot - EditedIndividual schools within a network can also have their own channels. This is great for real time communication and other super-fast questions.

School Channel Screenshot - EditedYes, Slack does mean you are still connected to a messaging service. However, the team at NOCP has reported that its introduction has dramatically reduced the amount of email whizzing around.

Whether you are school, district or nonprofit-based, fall is the PERFECT time to think about your communication agreements for the academic year. You can find other examples here.

I look forward to seeing Slack, or other messaging options, catch on! The New York Times predicts it may eventually sink email!

PS – Finding the root cause of your email issue and two different inbox strategies: Yesterbox and Inbox Pause.

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