How Office 365 Can Help Prevent a Reply-All-pocalypse
Time Inc. had a funny problem recently, at least funny from the outside. Someone innocently enough sent an email with a question about their benefits to an open distribution list for Health and Wellness instead of to HR. From there, people started to reply all, wondering why they were getting that email and not thinking that they are probably emailing others that are thinking the same thing. Hilarity ensued!
This is obviously a user education issue, but IT can help. I’ve been at a company that has had this type of issue and Microsoft solutions had the answers.
The first thing for an IT administrator to know is that all distribution lists in Outlook have security controls around who can send to them. There are always reasons to create massive lists, but leaving them open is a mistake. If you are big enough to have a Corporate Communications group or even a CXO level, these people should be allowed to send to these lists. If not, think about who needs access and designate those people to handle communications. It will save a lot of headaches.
If you are behind the ball, as Time Inc. was, you can stop it by restricting the list immediately and leaving it restricted for a few days. You can also get creative with the mail transport rules. For example, you can create a rule that states:
- If the subject or body of the message contains “HR Question” AND
- The recipient address includes HealthandWellness@someaddress.com, THEN
- Block the message (delete it without notifying anyone)
Seems pretty simple, right? Just a couple of clicks and you will stop the storm of email replies.
Now that things have gotten under control again, you probably don’t want those emails lingering out there anymore. You need to get rid of them all, but they are scattered across multiple mailboxes. With Office 365, you can use the Compliance Search feature to search for and subsequently remove the messages.
The steps to do this are straightforward and available on TechNet. Basically, you create a Compliance Search to find the message, then you delete the message.
Now that the storm is over, you need to prevent this from happening again. Think about the content of the message. Maybe email isn’t the best mechanism to ask such a question. Office 365 has a great tool to ask point in time questions and get an answer – Yammer!
This entire situation could have been avoided by moving conversations, which are slow and cumbersome in email, to a social format. If Time Inc. had Yammer and created an HR portal to ask questions, the employee could have just logged on and asked the question. Either someone designated to watch the Yammer Group or even anyone in HR could have answered. Yammer does require a cultural shift in thinking about content placement and collaboration, but this example proves how useful the technology can be.
If you find yourself in the middle of a Reply-All-pocalypse, hopefully your IT administrators are notified and action can be taken quickly. I was an email admin for a number of years and found myself in this situation. Even before Office 365, there were tools in Exchange to help deal with this quickly and effectively. Just breathe, let management know what you’re doing and get it over with as fast as possible, so that you can start focusing on more effective ways to collaborate!