How to manage email

But your problems don’t stop with spyware, Trojan horses and other external threats. If you haven’t set up basic email guidelines for your employees, you could end up in a whole lot of trouble. A few injudicious remarks could land you at an employment tribunal or blow your case apart if you’re ever sued.

Then there are the potential breaches of confidentiality – accidental or otherwise – that happen much more easily when employees can send huge chunks of information at the click of a button.

And there’s the small problem that email is one of the few ‘office productivity’ tools that actually seems to reduce efficiency rather than increase it. So as well as exposing you to dangers, it’s probably costing you an arm and a leg for the privilege.

So where do you start if you want to reduce the risks? The first thing to bear in mind, as legal experts frequently point out, is that the ‘e’ in ‘email’ stands for ‘evidence’. Unlike a telephone conversation that quickly deteriorates into hazy recollection, it has the nasty habit of hanging around long after you’ve finished communicating. In fact, if you get sued you may well have to produce your email records in court under discovery rules.

That’s why you need to put guidelines in place about how to use email. Everyone knows how the mechanics work – what they don’t think about is the implications of what they write. So firstly, focus on the content. Anything that smacks of discrimination, harassment or intimidation is obviously out – as is anything that might imply you’re not quite dealing straight with your customers or suppliers. Tell your employees to stop before they send an email and imagine what it would be like hearing it read out in court– or how they’d feel if a journalist called them to explain what they’d written.

Likewise, ban flame mails. There’s nothing wrong with writing down exactly what you feel to let off steam – just make sure you don’t press ‘send’ until you’ve calmed down. And keep in mind this is not just about email – it applies equally to texts and instant messages.

By the way, if you’re worried about what your employees are writing, take advice before you start monitoring their emails. While it’s easy enough to do so technically, there are legal and trust implications that you want to work through first.

Secondly, put together a policy dictating how long your email records should be stored. Companies often do this based on how much email storage space they have – but that’s a technology-based decision, not a business one.

You need to work out how long you might reasonably need access to records– and also, what kind of information you want to keep. Bear in mind that email evidence could help you win a legal case as much as land you in the soup, so it’s in your interests to have meaningful guidelines in place that protect your back.

And finally, don’t forget the basics. If you haven’t got top-quality software in place to manage viruses, spam and all the other dangerous stuff in the electronic ether, you won’t be worrying about email content or retention. You’ll be wondering why your IT systems don’t work.

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