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Opinion Editorials

Which email style is effective, search or folders?

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The science behind email organization

We’re all looking for ways to improve productivity, and business professionals today spend a great deal of time in email which makes it an obvious choice for spotting potential inefficiencies. A new study by IBM researchers applies the science behind email organization and asserts there are only two types of email personalities – those who meticulously file emails into folders, and those who use search for “refinding” content.

IBM studied 354 long term users’ behavior by creating a modern email client that supports search, folders, tagging and threading so that users could choose their own organization (or lack thereof) method and conducted over 85,000 refinding actions.

The study says that creating complex folder structures is a preparatory effort that promotes effective refinding, as opposed to opportunistic methods for access, such as search and threading that promotes reducing the need to manually prepare.

Folders vs. no folders

“Prior work has argued that folders may be poorly organized and sometimes ill-suited for retrieval,” the report notes. “Our data support opportunistic access,” the report concludes, asserting that users who create obsessive folder structures do not improve retrieval success, while search and threading actually promoted effective retrieval. Research reveals that although a less effective use of time, complex folder structures are being used less for information retrieval and more as a to-do list that is categorized.

Harvard Business Review’s Michael Schrage writes, “The essential takeaway is that the new economics of personal productivity mean that the better organized we try to become, the more wasteful and inefficient we become. We’ll likely get more done better if we give less time and thought to organization and greater reflection and care to desired outcomes. Our job today and tomorrow isn’t to organize ourselves better; it’s to get the right technologies that respond to our personal productivity needs. It’s not that we’re becoming too dependent on our technologies to organize us; it’s that we haven’t become dependent enough.”

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Eric Bramlett

    January 13, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I dropped outlook about 3 years ago after dumping a glass of tea on my laptop and going to an old desktop for 3 weeks while it was getting fixed. Folders are absolutely necessary with Outlook, which is absolutely inferior to gmail. When I set up gmail (apps) I added tons and tons of labels, basically mimicking my folder structure. After about a year, I learned to trust gmail's search, and don't use the labels at all. Gmail search is absolutely superior to folders.

  2. Tinu

    December 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    A mixture of broad folder filing and search works best for me. Without folders, I have problems finding emails when The search criteria leaves me too many returns to sort through, and a general sense of Inbox overwhelm. But with search, as long as I have filtering set up to store reference emails or to call my attention to important senders, it’s easier for me to communicate.

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Opinion Editorials

5 insights into building a culture with your remote teams

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The end of pandemic lockdown is a possible reality, but creating a strong culture while dealing with a remote team is more critical than ever.

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Remote teams having a meeting with some of the team in the room around a table, others on a large screen.

As more companies ponder the future of remote work, it’s going to be important to keep remote teams engaged with your business and brand. For the past 6 years, I’ve been a part of BKA Content, a award-winning company based in Utah, that has maintained a good reputation among its writers for creating an excellent remote working environment and known for its high standards.

According to Matt Secrist, co-founder and COO, BKA has over 600 independent contractors and 20 employees, all of whom work remotely. Over 200 of those writers have been with the company for two or more years. About 30 writers have been with the company for more than 6 years. It’s not easy to keep freelancers on board that long without some strong ties to the company.

Communication
Secrist states, “I think frequent communication…(makes) a huge difference.” I concur with this statement. BKA sends out a weekly newsletter to all its writers. After six years, I still enjoy reading it because it always gives relevant information. Their culture comes through in the newsletter. It’s not preachy. Sometimes, they have fun games and contests that create camaraderie and give us fun things beyond writing. The newsletter also keeps us up to date with AP grammar and other industry items. But it’s never a newspaper, so it’s quick to read. We also have a Facebook group in which we can interact. The leaders are committed to keeping the remote teams engaged.

Organized processes
Starting with the training modules, BKA creates a strong culture through organization and clear goals. Their strong onboarding process set standards right away. Their writers were not left to their own device. I worked closely with one person for the first few pieces I turned in, which is core to their success in keeping excellent writers. Their business has grown so much that they have created teams for certain accounts. Secrist estimates that they have more than 150 individual teams. I deal with one account manager for each team, which strengthens the bonds between people. We aren’t just email accounts, but real people working together.

Clear goals and standards
I believe one of the keys to BKA’s success is that it is transparent with its goals and standards. Writers are required to turn in a certain amount every week, which means it needs to be part of our routine. Every account has a style guide with detailed instructions for writing for that brand. We are encouraged to contact the account manager with questions. The account managers always respond in a timely manner with professionalism. The culture of BKA is positivity. Even though missed deadlines can have consequences, there is grace and flexibility. In six years, I can say that they have always dealt with me fairly, which is a core value of the company.

Transparency
The leadership is always transparent with the writers. When we’ve had a hiccup with payroll, the CFO has always addressed it head-on and not prevaricated. It’s always been fixed as quick as possible. I had lost over $200 over a period of four months because one payment amount had gotten changed to $0 in the system. When I discovered it, the account manager had it corrected that day and added the amount to my next deposit. Dealing with issues, especially financial issues, quickly is key to keeping remote workers engaged.

Remote work is here to stay
Secrist supports my own insights by saying, (BKA has) “worked to build an online community where people feel valued and heard. Being kind to, invested in and interested in the people we rub shoulders with in a virtual setting has created an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

We may be seeing an end to the pandemic, but workers want remote work. Regardless of how that looks in your company, you have to address how to keep your remote teams engaged while giving them flexibility. Looking at other companies and how they do it can help you create a solid team who are on the same page.

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Opinion Editorials

Starting a new remote job? Here’s how to impress your team

(EDITORIAL) New world. New normal. New remote job? Here are three steps to help you navigate your new job and make a lasting first impression.

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new home office

My past gig selling ergonomic furniture seems so much more meaningful these days. That’s a real aluminum foil lining on a horrible, deadly, terrifying situation, but I’ll take it.

For those of us who can keep up the grind for that daily bread (sourdough apparently) from home, we’re in da house like it’s a late 90s video. Or a much much much lamer early 2000s video aping late 90s videos.

It’s been weird. Intellectually, I know taking breaks to roast Brussels sprouts, hang my delicates, or weep uncontrollably into the living room carpet is NOT what I’m being paid for but…I’m doing it. And I can because I know my coworkers, superiors included, are doing the exact same.

We’ve already built up the kind of rapport that says ‘So long as XYZ gets done, organizing your spice rack between calls is fine, because we are all going NUCKING FUTS, and whatever keeps us from starting fires without driving up company costs is all gravy. Also here’s a picture of my dog’.

Maddie

BUT, for those of us cranking the money mill in a whole NEW work situation… it’s gonna be… well. Not necessarily like that.

If my first off-color joke to my manager was over G-Chat instead of face-to-face, I can’t even IMAGINE what horror shows would go through my head if she say… went to go check her mail right as I hit send and just kinda left whatever it was I said about bras hanging there.

So what can you do to improve your new-person status when you can’t meet your team and cozy up face-to-face?

Make introductions

Imagine you’re taking a pre-covid19 bus. Some stranger taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey, you wanna approve this invoice right quick?”

Not the worst thing you could hear on public transport by a long shot, but it’s still a little presumptuous, no?

That’s why you need to introduce yourself.

Not just in the general group chats or Zoom meetings. No one’s going to remember those (and there’s a 75% chance you don’t have your video on anyway).

Introduce yourself every time you ask someone new for something. Like this: “Hi colleague! I’m April, the new girl in 2nd shift goth ops, how are you? I had a quick question about our joy division, do you have a moment?”

I get that I’m an 87 year old biddy when it comes to matters of courtesy, but when you can’t actually see someone or offer to grab something from the communal fridge for someone, this stuff goes a LONG way. Bonus, you might get some extra positivity back! And we ALL need that.

Scroll back

Put that mouse wheel in reverse, what we’re gon’ do right here is go back. The cool thing about work chat-ware is that most versions will have a history you can scroll through! Your mission now is to creep through public, multi-person channels and see how your new peeps cheep.

You’ll get a great sense of who’s who, the general vibe, and even see frequent pain points and questions that come up before you have to ask about them (which you WILL).

Is this the kind of workplace where you can leave an ‘It’s Twerkin Tuesday!’ GIF, and get a whole bootylicious thread going to lift everyone’s spirits? Or do you work with more of an “Here’s an interesting article about twerking for spine health” kind of crowd?

This is how you find out.

Keep your own records.

Art Markman over at the Harvard Business Review mentioned a super fun and also true fact: “ Your memory for what happens each day is strongest around things that are compatible with your general script about how work is supposed to go. That means that you are least likely to remember the novel aspects of your new workplace” .

Ergo, it makes sense to keep a diary of everything that happens at work so you can get help with what you need most… because those ‘novel aspects’ are EVERYTHING, experience or no.

I personally suck at making my hands write as quickly as I think, so I suggest a diary in the form of Google docs, or even a private Tumblr/Twitter, etc, where you can hashtag what you need to look back at, and search your logs at your leisure later.

Make sense?

It’s not always easy to navigate a new position, even if you’re the naturally charming, adaptable type. Adapting to several major things at once is a lot for anyone! But hey, you’re doing the right thing by reading this as it is. Gold star!

Congrats on the new gig. Keep your head up, or whatever direction medical doctors recommend – you got the job. You’ve got this!

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Opinion Editorials

5 ways to grow your business without shaming the competition

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) We all need support as business owners. Let’s talk ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur that do not include shaming your competition.

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Entrepreneur women all talking around a meeting table.

The year 2020 has forced everyone to re-assess their priorities and given us the most uncertain set of circumstances we have lived through. For businesses and entrepreneurs, they were faced with having to confront new business scenarios quickly.

Perhaps you were forced to add virtual components or find new revenue streams – immediately. Regardless, this has been tough for everyone.

Every single person is having a hard time with the adjustments and at very different stages from others. We’re currently at the 6-month mark, and each of our timelines are going to look different. Our emotions have greeted us differently too, whether we have felt relief, grief, excitement, fear, hope, determination, or just plain exhaustion.

Now that we are participating in life a bit more virtually than in 2019, this is a good time to re-visit the pros and cons of the influence of technology and online marketing outreach. It’s also a great time to throw old entrepreneur rules out the window and create a better sense of community where you can.

Here’s an alluring article, “Now Is Not the Time for ‘Mom Shaming’”, that offers an example from about a decade ago of how the popularity of mommy bloggers grew by women sharing their parenting “hacks”, tips, or even recipes, and crafting ideas via online posts and blogs. As the blog entries grew, so did other moms comparing themselves and/or feeling inadequate.

Some of the responses were natural and some may have been coming from a place of defensiveness. Moms are not alone in looking for resources, articles, materials, and friends to tell us we’re doing OK. We just need to be told “You are doing fine.”

Luckily, some moms in Connecticut decided to declare an end to “Mom Wars” and created a photo shoot that shared examples of how each mom had a right to their choices in parenting. It seemed to reinforce the message of, “You are doing fine.”

I don’t know about you, but my recent google searches of “Is it ok to have my 3-year old go to bed with the iPad” are pretty much destined to get me in trouble with her pediatrician. I’m hoping that during a global pandemic, “I am doing fine.”

Now, comparing this scenario to the entrepreneur world, often times your business is your baby. You have worn many hats to keep it alive. You have built the concept and ideas, nurtured the products and services with sweat, tears, and maybe some laughs. You have spent countless hours researching, experimenting, and trying processes and marketing tactics that work for you. You have been asked to “pivot” this year like so many others (Sick of that word? Me too).

Here are some ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur (or at least, ideas worth considering if you haven’t already):

  1. It’s about the questions you ask yourself. How does your product or service help or serve others (vs. solely asking how do I get more customers?) This may lead to new ideas or income streams.
  2. Consider a collaboration or a partnership – even if they seem like the competition. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
  3. Stop inadvertently shaming the competition by critiquing what they do. It’s really obvious on your Instagram. Try changing the narrative to how you help others.
  4. Revisit the poem All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and re-visit it often. “And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
  5. Join a community, celebrate others’ success, and try to share some positivity without being asked to do so. Ideas include: Likes/endorsements, recommendations on LinkedIn for your vendor contacts, positive Google or Yelp reviews for fellow small business owners.

It seems like we really could use more kindness and empathy right now. So what if we look for the help and support of others in our entrepreneurial universe versus comparing and defending our different ways of doing things?

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