A Business Technology Place

A simple way to backup your email archive

It’s not your Amex card, but you don’t want to leave home/work without it.

For many of us, losing an email archive ranks as one of the most disruptive events to our daily routine at work. I don’t use email as my main information storage for documents, tasks, and workflows. But I know from experience that many of the internal users that I serve have most of their everyday document, message, and customer interaction stored in email. They expect email to be available on-demand and to be reliable for archive and historical reference.

Why is it important for to keep the mailbox under a certain size?

So what’s the big deal about size of your email mailbox? Are the IT guys just creating an unnecessary inconvenience in your life when they enforce a mailbox size quota? Here’s the scoop. Some of the rationale for the policy is based on historical thinking when disk space was much more expensive. In 2000 the cost per gigabyte of storage was around $6-10 dollars. Today we spend less than forty cents per gigabyte depending on type of storage we buy. There still isn’t an infinite amount of disk space to carve out for email. But you get the point.

Last week I wrote about how to rethink email attachments. That advice is centered on habits to avoid duplicate files and versioning issues in workflow. But managing email attachments wisely also helps to keep the overall size of the email mailbox in-check.

The bigger reason that we still need to limit the size of mailboxes is that it can impact performance of the system. For a messaging platform like email it’s not so much the size but the number of items in a folder that can start to impact performance. The speed of results for the tasks that we perform on an email folder (viewing, sorting, and searching) depends on the number of objects in the folder.

The role of your email archives and how to make sure they are always there.EmailArchive

To avoid being in email jail for exceeding the size threshold most users will use the built-in function to archive emails to another data file. Email programs like Outlook have a wide variety of options for archiving including recurring schedules.  The archive is accessible from within email to make access easier.

But there’s a problem. Most people put their email archives on their local PC disk so that they have access to them even if they are not connected directly to the corporate network (and because that is the default location for the program to create the file). If the local drive crashes and there is no backup then the email archive is lost. Ouch!

A simple solution for backing up your email archive.

Please Note: This is not a step-by-step tutorial on how to setup this solution. I’ll describe a simple process that you can follow with moderate PC skills. If you need assistance doing this then consult with your favorite IT guy. They’ll be happy to learn that you are thinking about how to backup your email archive file. 🙂 Oh and one more thing, I’m referencing the concept with Windows terms. If you use a Mac the concept is the same but the locations and programs may vary slightly.

If you use a PC that never leaves the office and is always connected to the network then you could move your archive to a network drive. We had some issues with this at my office based on some technical stuff about how archives work and the way we replicate data. So here’s an alternative:

  1. Create a file called CopyArchive.bat and place it somewhere on your local drive. The contents of my CopyArchive.bat file are:

echo Copying Archive.pst Script
echo Please close Outlook
pause
echo Begin file copy
copy /Y c:\users\<your user directory>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\archive.pst h:\outlook

Please note:

* My archive is named archive.pst.  Your archive name and location may differ. You can find them in Outlook under File → Info → Account Settings → Data Files

* My network location is the H drive in a folder called outlook. Your network location is specific to where you want to copy the backup.

  1. Go to the Start menu in Windows and type “task scheduler”. Select and start the Windows Task scheduler.
  1. Create a task that runs the Archive.bat file weekly. For me I have the task setup with the action “Start a program” and details “cmd /C <c:\programs\CopyArchive.bat>”

 

That’s it. All you’re doing is creating a weekly job to copy for archive file(s) to the network. When the job runs it will prompt you to close Outlook so that it has access to the file and can copy it. Do this and be worry free about losing that email to Murphy and his law.

Onward and Upward!

 

Rethink email attachments

Ease of use wins the day.

Attaching documents to email is perhaps the most-used business workflow invention in the last 20 years. I don’t think this feature of email was intended to become so intertwined in business workflows. But it’s so easy to click, attach, and send that the procedure has become habit for us. Storing documents on a network location that the recipients have access to is complicated for both the sender and recipient. As security rules tighten it has become even more complicated to share documents. Hackers and Malware makers know this all too well. Email attachments are still one of the easiest ways to get past corporate firewalls.

Attachments could land you in email jail.Games-Go-to-Jail

There are a couple of undesirable effects from our attachment habit. Attachments are big and most people rarely consider the size of the attachment before clicking send. That file is stored in the sent mail of the sender and the inbox of the recipient. Eventually this results in a bloated mailbox size that exceeds the storage quota, aka mailbox jail.

The second issue is that email attachments make collaboration difficult. Document versioning is unclear and easily lost if multiple contributors work on the document simultaneously. The location of the most recent copy of a document is unknown or easily confused. Oh, and don’t forget the aggregate effect all those attachments have on the overall mailbox size.

Rethink email habits.

I think the first step to changing any behavior is awareness of the habit and the consequences of the actions. Here are a few ways to rethink how to approach email attachments:

  1. Use attachments for distributing final copies of document but not for collaborating on changes. This guideline is simple to remember and can reduce issues with email jail and versioning. There are many alternative ways to collaborate document edits with others such as group folders, SharePoint sites, or online cloud storage.
  2. Choose a recurring interval to clean your mailbox from unneeded attachments. The simplest way to do this is to sort the mailbox folder by size (don’t forget sent mail). The largest messages will have attachments. Remove messages over a threshold size, say 1MB, especially if you already have another copy of the file elsewhere.
  3. Take the time to understand what locations for documents are available outside of the email inbox and what types of audiences have access to those locations. To copy and paste a link to a document inside an email message is just as easy as attaching a document. Knowing the recipient has access to the link is the key to make it work. This may require some initial homework and setup time, but the later dividends are worth it.

Let me know how you approach email attachments.

Onward and upward.

 

A case for voice mail

Do you use your office phone and voice mail?

Dan Kedmey of Time Magazine recently listed 4 reasons we should never leave another voicemail.  I agree in part with Kedmey that the role of voice mail and the office phone is decreasing. I see it at work too, as some co-workers opt to have no desk phone, or simply forward their desk phone to their cell phone.  As studies show, more of us prefer to send an electronic message rather than leaving a voice mail. Think about how many times recently you’ve called someone and when they don’t answer you hang-up rather than leave a voice mail.

But wait…..

We shouldn’t be so quick to abandon the office phone and voice mail.

Here’s why:

  1. Bad habits on email and instant messaging don’t justify getting rid of your office phone. I’m talking about the times when people want to have a full blown conversation through email (multiple messages back-and-forth). I’m talking about when an instant message goes on for minutes when the conversation could be resolved in seconds by just picking up the phone and calling. Unfortunately this type of behavior is becoming more common in the office. Electronic messaging is not always the most efficient.
  2. There are legitimate times to use electronic messaging to create a written record of correspondence. But conflict resolution and getting to answers quicker in problem solving are better for face-to-face or phone conversations.
  3. I use my office phone as a screener much like I use a second email for online sign-ups. I give my cell phone number to people I know and trust. Incoming calls on the office phone are mostly solicitations and screened as such by rolling them to voice mail.
  4. Voice mail is way to insert tone and meaning into your messages for others. Electronic messaging is often misunderstood and misinterpreted because the receiver doesn’t hear the tone of the speaker’s voice. If it’s really important, try a voice mail.
  5. Voice mail is still used on cell phones and there are tools to transcribe that voice mail into an electronic message. This is a convenience for the receiver to filter out solicitations.
  6. Voice mail is more personal. It’s like receiving a hand written note.

So…

If you want to stand-out and send a much more personal message then leave a voice mail.

Reach out and touch someone is still effective today. Maybe the office phone and voice mails are no longer the primary communication tool for us. But they do have a place.

To me, a voice mail from a colleague shows a personal touch to message delivery. They are leaving their voice for me to hear. No, it’s not the best choice of messaging medium for all situations. It doesn’t scale well. The recipient can’t scan it. So I choose to keep voice mail for specific uses. Sometimes, you just need to be heard.  🙂

Finding the search tab in Outlook 2010

I recently stumbled across the advanced search features in Outlook 2010. To be fair I haven’t been using Outlook for too many months. My corporate email was Lotus Notes for the past 15 years and I use gmail at home. Here is my default view of the Outlook 2010 inbox with the search box that I’ve been using marked:

Outlook 1

What I didn’t notice is that when I would click in the search box then the advanced search tab appears (it’s invisible on the default view). My eye focus was so drawn to the search filter and results that I went months without noticing all the advanced search features.

Outlook 2

The feature I had been looking for was how to search all folders. Finally I can search once instead of looking through individual folders! Looking at it now on the screen it’s so obvious that the tool bar and features are there. It goes to show the power of focused attention. I guess this was suppose to be intuitive. So I failed the test. :-O

Death to the Office?

Do interconnected electronic devices eliminate the need for the traditional office?

I read “Death to the office” and stopped to think. Wait, did I read that right? Yes, it said “death to the office” because of commute to work options in the new digital age. The traditional office of the 20th century is history. Then I read it again in a piece by Andrew Keen of CNN entitled Five reasons the office will become redundant. Keen’s argument is that advancement of technology, ease of access to the internet, and increase in commute times, make the office unnecessary as an everyday place to conduct work (My one sentence interpretation and summary).

The argument reminds me of the paperless office idea from the 1980s. Remember when the latest buzz was the traditional office would become paperless? The amount of paper may be reduced, but we certainly are not paperless. In addition to the physical evidence next to any network printer area, the local IT support tickets for printer help show that we are not paperless. So is the paperless office a myth, novelty, or aspiration?

One reality is today that most organizations today have employees that are 100% remote or that work-from-home at least one day a week. Will that change? I don’t think so.

What about job types?

Sales positions or jobs that act as an individual agent to create work already have limited use for a traditional office. That’s nothing new. Sales employees are compensated to find business and maintain client relationships. The office has existed through the years for the knowledge workers and the administrative workers to have a place to gather. In the past electronic interconnectivity didn’t exist.

Obviously jobs like manufacturing or those that require physical access to a piece of equipment that is not mobile are not subject to remote working. The office will continue to exist for these workers. Can departments like Marketing, IT, and Finance operate as individual agents connected by electronic devices? I realize employees can produce work from just about anywhere as long as they have a computing device and connectivity to the central systems of their company. But I also know that these same workers need to inter-play with members of their department and other departments to get work done.

Remote working can be done. It has advantages. But’s it not always the best choice.

Email, phone calls, video calls, and instant messaging are all viable communication mediums. But they have their own set of challenges:

  • Multi-tasking on phone calls
  • Misinterpreted emails
  • Unclear emails that results in threads that span more than five messages
  • Video call avoidance because the employee does not like to be seen on camera (no makeup)
  • The time to type instant messaging instead of just finding the person and talking it through

Nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting with team members to whiteboard solutions, diagnose problems, or clarify the needs to solve a situation. Team unity isn’t the same when it’s build through email as it is when team members meet each day.

Location. Location. Location.

I’ve held a job that was 40 miles from home one-way and one that was 9 miles from home one-way. I know what it’s like to spend two hours each day in the car commuting back-and-forth to work. It’s natural to favor remote options if this is the situation of the employee. It’s also helpful to work from home in this situation. When I lived far from the office and worked from home I would spend those extra two hours doing work rather than something else. Yes it helped productivity.

But workers that live close to the office may not have the same feeling. In my current job, I’m only 20 minutes from the office. I go to the office five days a week. I prefer it. It gives me the ability to manage, interact, and build relationships much more than if I were at home.

Don’t kill the office just yet.

Businesses need an office. They need it to bring workers together to create unity and a sense of shared purpose. Mission statements are easier fulfilled by people working together side-by-side, not by people working as virtual free agents across a digital divide.  Brands are established by people not machines and programs. So let’s keep the office around a little longer.