12 Ways to Improve Your Business with Email Best Practice

Welcome to our our 12 steps blog series on email best practice – now presented to you in one blog post for your convenience. Continue reading below for some top tips from the team at Waterford Technologies on getting the most from your company’s email activities.

1. Establish a Culture of Compliance

When regulatory auditors, directors, investors or even customers arrive to inspect your operations, it makes a major difference if you are a company that is upfront, transparent and open to inspection, or simply trying to hide flaws, inefficiencies and questionable behaviors.

Achieving this is only possible if the leadership is committed to this goal. That is why it so important to promote a culture of integrity, professionalism and transparency from the very top of the organization and enforce and reward policies which support this.

When regulators come to inspect your operations and practices for whatever reason, they tends not to examine those companies which are transparent and open to inspection as rigorously as those which are not.

This is not the only benefit of focusing on compliance within an organization. As a company strives for compliance and implements and optimizes policies in support of this, they are much more likely to have higher levels of information security and employee productivity.

2. Use Email Intelligence to Grow the Top Line

Whether they walk the halls and talk to employees at every level or invest in massive data warehousing technologies, the best executives have a way of being “plugged in” to their company and seem to have extra insight and intelligence when it comes to decision-making.

Email contains the rich documented history of a business’s activities from sales and product to financial and legal. An archive intelligence report turns this data into actionable knowledge for better decision making by tapping into the daily mass of communications between your employees, customers, partners and suppliers.

Without having to wait for monthly sales reports, managers can search and find all email relating to specific customers, products and negotiations which can be studied and analyzed for insights and opportunities to improve services or create new deals. Emails relating to a specific project can be analyzed in the same manner and shared among team managers to improve project intelligence.

When management understands the motivations behind and the outcome of decisions at every level there is an exponential increase in understanding of how and why your organization is moving in the wrong direction. Being able to see these patterns and influences can give an executive great perspective on exactly what to change to make improvements.

3. Ask Key Email Questions Quarterly

Continually asking questions is key to uncovering the existence of risks in a company’s email policies and processes. This needs to be practiced from the very highest level of the organization with the CEO asking questions such as “How are we educating our employees about email policies?” and “Do we quantify risks from employee use of email?

Of course, the CEO’s responsibility does not end there and they should be asking key questions of every senior manager, including:

Chief Information Officer (CIO)

  • Who are our top email users?
  • Who are our top email abusers?
  • How do we ensure information security via email?
  • How can we better enforce and tune policies?

Corporate Attorney

  • How many legal cases have requested email records this year?
  • How long did it take to find all relevant emails?
  • What is our email retention period for email and why?
  • What is the cost of finding emails today?

Compliance Officer

  • How fast can we find and produce emails for audits?
  • Which regulations is our company subject to?
  • How many company transactions, contracts and approvals are done using email only?
  • How many investigations have you performed this year?

Chief Financial Officer

  • What would happen to our stock price if a confidential internal email was leaked?
  • Who has sent the financial reports “Revenue Forecast” outside the company during a blackout period?
  • What is the overall cost of storing and retrieving emails without an email archiving system?
  • How much did we spend on legal discovery costs in the past year?

Board of Directors

  • How important is having a company that proactively monitors email activity for policy breaches?
  • How valuable is having a competitive advantage that leverages collective knowledge within company email?
  • What is my personal exposure to ensure we have adequate controls to discover inappropriate activities?
  • How important is having policies which limit and discourage inappropriate and non-work related emails?

4. Deploy Email Archiving Software

The best way to reduce your mail store size is by archiving older email and/or attachments and removing them from the active mail store. Email archiving solutions perform this function in various ways depending on the technology used.

Emails can be copied, moved, or “stubbed” and the email store is swept on a regular basis to identify candidates for archive. With a compliance solution, every new email that is sent or received will also be copied to the archive.

Email archiving provides a number of benefits to Mail Administrators including removing the reliance on .PST and .NSF files. These are short term fixes that are created by users when they hit their allotted quotas. However, they cause many problems when it comes to trying to find historical emails or be in compliance with regulations and retention policies.

The organization has no control over where they are stored, what is in them, who owns them or if they are retained at all. All .PST and .NSF files can be collected and imported into the archive so they can be indexed and easily searched when needed.

Quotas are usually implemented because of the limited amount of storage space a mail server can hold or is licensed for. Once the vast majority of the live emails are archived onto a separate location, it will free up the active mail server to hold much more email, thus eliminating the need for storage quotas.

Additionally, when the mail server is running close to the limit of storage space, it begins to affect performance. After archiving historical emails, email storage should be significantly below the server capacity, improving performance overall. Hitting email storage limits is often the first pain to be realized.

5. Delegate Archive Access

The mail server interface is not built for ease of use in searching and retrieving emails, so it is not efficient or practical to allow access to managers. However, with email archiving software, the interface is built for ease of use in searching emails. The benefits of allowing authorized line of business managers to search and retrieve emails from the archive are numerous.

Regular requests to the IT department to retrieve an email are common in most organizations. Many times these requests are because one member of a project team or a sales executive is out of office and their colleague or manager needs an email to close a sale or resolve a priority issue.

These requests are not usually built in to the time most IT departments allocate for their staff. These requests take away time from other projects, and are not a core competency of an IT staff. It is more valuable to have business managers perform these searches as they know exactly what to look for.

When IT staff perform the searches, they will be reading not only just the emails that are being requested, but also many other emails that are on the way to finding the right ones. This has implications for privacy violations by giving IT staff access to their peer’s communications. Allowing managers to search instead improves confidentially and the level of privacy afforded to employees.

Legal counsel or HR are often the main requesters of past email records. Allowing departmental managers to access the company email archive opens up a new opportunity for managers to have more input into supervisory function.

In the same way that managers often look at call reports or listen in on customer service phone calls, they will now be able to assess job performance on a whole new set of metrics. There are many reports that can be created to show email frequency, timing, how quickly email is read or processed, as well as qualitative reports on personal emails, and policy violations.

Email security is not necessarily addressed by software alone. There are many threats to a company’s information assets and many of these threats are internal. Email content filters will do very little to stop inappropriate emails from one employee to another, or even from employees to the outside world.

The best way to improve security is to enforce policies and improve awareness of managers for when policies are being broken. When managers know who is sending too much personal email, or sending confidential documents to his friend’s Hotmail account, it is in the best interest of the company to monitor that and either re-train or discipline these individuals. Also, employees need to be better aware of policies and acceptable email usage to reduce security leaks.

6. Utilize an Archive to Retrieve Emails Faster

Some attorneys do not even realize they can have access to historical emails for evidence, discovery or investigations. For most, the request for email discovery from a subpoena or an internal investigation is so painful a proposition that their IT staff do not even consider it as a viable option.

The time it takes to perform these requests are measured in weeks and months and the cost is measured in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some companies reported that manual searches cost approximately $4,000 per located email.

When a company implements an email archive the time suddenly goes to minutes, and the cost is negligible. This provides significant cost saving to a business and is more economical than hiring outside contractors or firms to find email which can average $500 per hour.

Other benefits of search and retrieval through an email archiving solution include:

  • Avoid Court Penalties and Government Fines – Increasingly, courts and judges are granting requests to produce emails related to a case. When these requests are ignored, or not complied with, there can be severe consequences including fines. Email archiving helps ensure your business does not fall foul of the law.
  • Improve Case Efficiency – With the ease and speed that legal staff can search email archives, they can stop spending so much time hunting down emails, reviewing them and refining searches, and instead spend much more of their limited time preparing for their case. They will have more time for analyzing the emails, the context and patterns of behavior that is more valuable to their case.
  • Avoid Settlement Costs – Many cases are settled because of simple economics. Attorneys know how painful and costly it has traditionally been to produce discovery materials. If their calculation of costs to find the materials is higher than the cost of a settlement, then they will often settle regardless of liability.
  • Better Case Management – Email archiving systems will allow legal professionals to perform many grouping, labeling, and output functions. After preliminary searching, the difficult work of reviewing, sorting, and prioritizing the discovery document begins.

7. Mine Your Email Data

Very few companies would think to have their legal staff spend time browsing through their email archive when not related to an active case. However, that is exactly what legal professionals should be doing.

Freeing up your organization’s legal and HR professionals and allowing them to periodically browse the email archive allows them to identify and address a number of issues which could potentially pose a risk to your business. These issues include but are not limited to:

  • Suspicious activities that could be indicators of weak policy
  • Inappropriate employee behavior and communications
  • The sending of illegal or inappropriate materials
  • The uncontrolled communication of intellectual property
  • Mishandling of internal information or trade secrets
  • Proprietary customer or supplier information leaving the information

Allowing legal staff to proactively check for these issues rather than reacting to them can reduce the level of risk within the organization. Insights gained from mining your email data can also help to identify weak or inadequate policies and controls which can then be improved upon in the future.

8. Establish a Process for Email Capture, Retrieval and Monitoring

One of the main reasons for regulations in the first place is to provide visibility into operations. This is the reason why it is critical to be able to keep records of how decisions were made. Since email has become such an integral part of the business decision-making process, it is necessary to capture every email that may have impacted business decisions.

At any point in time, a company needs to be able to reconstruct the decision basis from the records of the company, so it is imperative to be able to find email records from any person and on any subject.

Having the process that keeps a separate, easily accessible archive of all emails for regulatory and auditing requirements, and allows for instant retrieval, will allow companies to more easily be in compliance with most regulations. And maybe more importantly, the reporting aspects of archive solutions allow easy analysis of email traffic and behaviors to monitor email use.

With the ability to review and analyze email records, management can easily spot trends or suspicious patterns of behavior. This can be an early indicator of activities that may harm the company or its customers. Good compliance programs will enable the company to go beyond just archiving emails; you should be able to leverage the data for business intelligence, better decision making and risk reduction.

9. Maintain Audit Trails

Improving internal controls, enabling better processes, and being able to enforce corporate policies will make your company much more likely to be in compliance. Being able to identify audit trails of who accessed which email records, when and for what reason, should be tracked by your email archiving software.

Your organization should be able to produce detailed and summary reports for audit trials, especially for sensitive and confidential information such as patient or financial records. This provides your company with assurance that there have been no unauthorized changes to the data.

It also helps to ensure that privacy and security measures are in place, which is especially critical when dealing with HIPAA regulations. Compliance is about making your business more intelligent and more accountable. These should be goals for every company regardless of legislation.

10. Enforce Email Usage Policies

In many organizations the HR Department assumes responsibility for creating and enforcing email policies. To effectively monitor email usage and enforce policies, employees need to be supported and provided with the right tools for the job.

An email archiving and reporting system empowers HR managers and allows them to gain a real insight into how policies are being broken and by whom by identifying patters of suspicious behavior that need to be investigated further.

By identifying employees who are sending large attachments, sending a large number of emails to external email addresses or even sending confidential information to unauthorized users, HR departments are more equipped to identify and prevent potential email abuse.

Reviewing these patterns of behavior over time will also allow HR departments to identify those policies which are repeatedly being broken and identify potential new policies which should be implemented. This cycle of creating, reviewing and optimizing policies based on business needs and realities can result in better security and more effective              usage policies.

11. Perform Investigation Directly

It is often the employees of the HR Department who will spearhead investigations of employees suspected of questionable email usage or wrongdoing. It is very common for HR to take the lead in researching inappropriate behavior complaints or whether a policy has been broken.

However, a balance must be achieved so as not to violate that suspected employee’s right to privacy and fairness, while resolving the matter as quickly as possible. HR can put teeth behind policies with access to email reports as visibility into email patterns can yield better management awareness and policy enforcement.

By allowing HR managers to have access to the corporate email archive and an easy search interface they can bypass handing off the request for email research to the IT department. This saves the IT department from using technical resources to accomplish an employee relations function.

It also allows the company to protect the privacy of the individual from non-HR management viewing their emails. This increases the level of confidentiality provided to employees and eliminates the need to “browse” through employee’s potentially personal emails.

Many times, when a company simply announces that emails will be monitored and are retrievable, it is enough to prevent many undesired behaviors and incidents from happening by creating a strong deterrent. Reducing intimidating environments, harassment lawsuits and inappropriate content will result from the power of having easy, fast access to email traffic patterns and content.

12. Review and Monitor Employee Email

Most companies do not think about giving direct access of email archives to department managers because of privacy issues, or because it would involve too much training. However, email archiving software should be as easy to use as a search engine such as Google.

In the US, there are no laws preventing employers from reviewing business emails as long as they reside on corporate computers and networks. It is a major underutilization of business assets to not analyze employee communications and trends. There are many benefits when access to the archive is given to departmental management.

This allows managers to control employee communications and ensure that emails to customers and suppliers are representing the company in the desired way. With direct access, managers can browse through email communications or search by keyword and read the email strings about a major project or customer implementation and get first hand understanding of the issues.

One of the first benefits of email monitoring is the positive impact it has on controlling non-work related emails. Once emails are captured, stored and reported on, departmental managers have instant access to how their own employees are using email.

Those users who have a high frequency of email volume get noticed because they rise to the top of the reports. Right away you can spot the users who are typically wasting time on excessive personal emails.

Inappropriate content is also a major concern at many companies, because it is so easy for images to be sent around, and is a cause for many complaints, such as sexual harassment claims and lawsuits. Monitoring and reviewing email activity will reduce will reduce the potential for this type of material to be circulated within the organization.

Want to Know More About Email Best Practice?

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