Yahoo recently came under fire for surreptitiously scanning its customer emails for keywords and phrases of interest to U.S. intelligence officials. While many people were shocked by the revelation that Yahoo was scanning these emails in breach of their supposed privacy, the news shouldn’t have been surprising. Email isn’t a private and secure means of communication. It’s never been private. There’s a false sense of security that email is safe, but it’s not. It’s time for business leaders to shift their thinking and embrace it as an open medium of communication.
It’s out there already, so you have nothing to hide
There are all sorts of tools for internal collaboration, and while many of them are useful, email is still the best platform for sharing non-urgent, non-critical information and documents with people outside your organization. Because it’s so easily searchable, it’s a terrific repository of conversations. It’s NOT, however, secure.
Email can be forwarded to someone else with the click of a button, whether the recipient is part of your organization or not. Emails are recorded communications that never expire. In fact, people joke all the time that their IT department is probably reading their email. Hackers can read them too, as we’ve seen all too often recently in the news. Unless you want to end up like the chief of Sony Pictures, who committed the ultimate career-limiting move by insulting the president of the United States in her email, you really should write every email with the thought that it could end up on Wikileaks someday.
We know the damage that destroying an expectation of privacy can have on people, so why not just neutralize the threat? Embrace the idea of email being open, and lay it bare for anyone in the organization to see. I’m not arguing that all information should be public. Sensitive medical information, financial data, and classified information must be safeguarded. But the inherent security flaws with email make it unfit for the purpose of sharing such critical information. Better technology platforms exist for that sort of data.
‘Open’ email can mean big productivity gains
Email is a treasure trove of information about customer and employee interactions. Employees spend countless hours creating and collecting valuable information about your business and squirrelling it away into folders. How many times a day do you find yourself requesting information from a coworker, when 90 percent of the time, that information is simply sitting somewhere in their inbox?
You can achieve unprecedented gains in corporate productivity by opening up email. I know this because it’s how we operate at Bullhorn. Anyone in the organization can see any email exchanged with anyone else outside the organization, customers, vendors, partners, etc. – my emails included. With a few exceptions, every external communication is laid bare for the benefit of productivity and improved customer experience. Want to know what’s going on with a customer issue? Just look at the email history. Want to find a vendor contract? Want to see how the best sales people communicate with their prospects? It’s all there, in the open. We’ve created an open, internal Wikileaks of sorts, and the radical transparency leads to much happier customers, partners, and employees.
Here’s an example: Say you’re a project manager and you’ve been dropped into a project mid-stream. Normally, you’d have to ask everyone involved in the project to get you up to speed: “Can someone please send me the most recent version of the project plan, the statement of work, and any other materials?” You’re essentially assigning your team a homework assignment, and you have to wait hours or even days for the response. Many companies try to centralize this data into systems, but it’s hard to keep them 100 percent up to date, so email is always the source of truth. Rather than assigning your peers a bunch of homework, why not just search the customer’s entire email history with the organization and find the relevant documents yourself?
This is a chance to change your corporate culture for the better
Opening up company email allows us to transform our corporate culture in a very healthy way. Rather than remind your employees on occasion that “email can be forwarded so be careful what you say,” embracing the intelligence value from open email across an organization results in a profound cultural shift. If employees write every email that leaves the company as if it will likely be seen by someone else in the organization, the overall professionalism and quality of communication will inevitably improve. It’s a natural way to hold everyone to a higher level of accountability, ethics, and quality.
Whether you’re on board with open email currently or not, the tide is turning in favor of it. According to Gartner, at least one multibillion-dollar publicly traded company will lose 50 percent of its shareholder value in 2017 because of a digital ethical problem that deeply upsets the market and regulators. Preventing a disaster like that by shifting your culture is far easier than cleaning it up after the fact.
Art Papas is the founder and CEO of Bullhorn, a Boston-based company that provides CRM and productivity solutions for relationship–driven businesses.