David Szpunar: Lead Engineer, PC Help Services

David's Church Information Technology

July 4th, 2007 at 2:20 pm Print This Post Print This Post

Important IT Email, or: That which Users love to Ignore

Barry Buchanan over at Church IT Help posted an entry yesterday that resonated strongly with my own experiences and frustrations. His gist? Staff members don’t read IT emails with important information that they very badly need to read. I’ve notice some of the same things he’s mentioned, and I haven’t found a solution. However, I have discovered these five facts and tips that have improved the amount of attention paid to my important IT notification emails:

  1. People don’t read their email. If they do, it’s not in a timely manner (if I get any email that looks remotely important I’ve read it within an hour almost any time between 7:30am and 11pm, on my Treo or a PC, so this is foreign to me).
  2. If people read email, they won’t read long ones. And by long, I mean a lot shorter than what I consider long. I tend to write books rather than emails :-) I’ve had to work on this a lot; shortening communications to just the necessities. It’s good practice, but sometimes my short emails are still longer than people are willing to read for some reason.You have to put the most important information up front.
  3. Preferably, use bold, italics, and color to highlight important phrases at the beginning and throughout the email. Action steps, a summary of changes, or some such very short “if you get nothing else from this email, get this” must be the first sentence or two. Provide details after that (some people will read it, and others might if they see from the beginning that it really needs to be read). A bulleted list with under-one-line summaries of steps or changes should either be first, or if you use another short summary up front, end with a bulleted summary.
  4. Keep the quantity down, but repeat yourself twice when possible. Announce something as early as possible. Then at least when someone says “I never got an email about that” you can pull up their email box and locate the email you sent (unless they’ve deleted it — if only they would! That and all the other accumulated junk causing your Exchange server to whine and complain. Well, users do seem really good at deleting the daily emails about their mailbox being over the size limit…). But also send an email the day before, or as close to a change as possible while leaving people a reasonable amount of time to receive and read it. Two days ahead of time is too early.
  5. This was part of number 3 above, but it’s very important: action steps. Include what is required of the user, up front and emphasized. “You must log out and log back in for these changes to take effect.” Even emphasize if it’s just a notification. “When you log in tomorrow, the icon will be red instead of blue. You don’t need to do anything different, this should happen.”

The problem is not solved. Users will always be…users. But mine are getting better! :-) And a lot of that is due to me working on my emails to make them better and more easily understandable. Any other suggestions I’ve missed?

As a side note, I am contemplating a simple intranet setup as a gateway to our new helpdesk system and to allow for announcements, forms distribution (and eventually business process automation). Posting all IT announcements there should also (hopefully) help. After I get people using it in the first place. (And after the best intranet solution is determined and set up!)

I just thought of an idea — what about pop-up “IT Announcement Ads”? Modify some adware to display ads from the IT department only, and have banners pop up on people’s screens with the information. Now there’s something they’ll pay attention to! (“My computer says I just won a laptop…is that true?!”) Granted, it might negate all the instructions about how users should ignore pop-ups, but might it be worth it? ;-)

If all else fails, I’m with Barry in recommending a ban of all users from the network :-)