The phenomena

At work, we send a lot of emails. With a lot of other tools for digital communication present, the Inbox prevails as the Grand Central of digital communication.

What if you would approach email data the same way you would with web site analytics? Our thesis is that peoples email is a good source for understanding the social life of organizations. And that these insights would lead to more efficient emailing behavior and healthier work environments.

The idea

Let’s say we created a digital tool that would let you monitor information flows within your organization. Based upon e-mail communication data. Would you be able to gain insights on how your staff are doing and take actions on anomalies?

We started investigating what type of measures could give insights on your organization. What could be learned by statistics at a group level? Simple things like:

  • Sent vs received emails
  • Popular times sending emails
  • Popular times receiving emails
  • Number of CC:s and Bcc:s in emails
  • Read vs unread emails
  • Time to answer emails

The concept

based on behaviors we observed with ourselves and others, we started playing around with visualizing dummy data in various ways. We also sketched on an interface that would guide you to act upon anomalies within the organization.

We restricted the concept from collecting and analyzing actual messages and content in emails. Assuming that there might be legally more complicated to collect this kind of data. And also assuming that many people would feel uncomfortable being monitored at that level (even if most already are).

The result

The lab session resulted in numerous sketches on user interfaces and data visualization views. We also created a click through prototype from a use case of a HR department wanting to keep track on their organizations email behaviors.

Weekly summary

A weekly summary gives you a good overview on your organizations communications habits for the moment. You can quickly identify anomalies that needs extra attention. If a lot of emails are read or sent outside office hours, then it might be worth looking a little extra on your staffs work load.

Or let’s say there is a lot of CC:s and BCC: in emails being sent. Maybe communication pathways aren’t clear enough? Or perhaps you need to work on psychological safety within your organization?

Early sketch on weekly summary dashboard.

Informal tribes

Visualizing communication pathways may shed lights on how organizations tend structures itself in informal tribes. Tapping in to that self structuring phenomena could lead to new ways of organizing teams more suitably. Or it may be a way to identify and loosen up rigid clustring and silos for a more transparent information culture. I bet there are more a lot of informal leaders to be revealed out there.

Based on email intensity, one could visualize informal tribes formed within the organization. Zooming in on specific people lets you investigate how they are connected.

Bottle necks and overloads

Combining your organizational flow chart with email communication data could identify areas where your organization structure aren’t functioning as intended. There may be key positions where entire information highways are stopped to a halt. For example, legal department might not have the slightest have a clue of what’s happening over at development.

Or there may be positions that have to deal with a lot of unintended communication flow. This would probably reveal a need for clarifying role definitions and hierarchies within the organization.

Mapping e-mail flows on your organizational flow chart lets you discover bottle necks and overloads.

Visualizing email flows between hierarchical levels of the organization would probably also be informative. Perhaps the communication flow stops at group manager level? Time redistribute responsibilities? Or time hire?

Analyzing your organizational communication flow at a higher level can point out entire sections or departments that are overloaded. Or the ones that suffer from information scarcity.

Company vicinity

By visualizing which companies or people are being contacted the most by your organization you get an overview of your vicinity. This would give a hint on which touch points are the most important to your company. And perhaps your sales department can find entirely new possibilities, based on connections that are already in place?

Or perhaps a client of yours take up a lot of attention? Are you getting enough kick back from all that pampering, or is this just a time consuming client?

Analyzing which companies are contacted the most, gives you a picture of your organizations vicinity.

Prototype

We landed this laboration in a click through prototype for a mobile app. Building on Googles material design system, we were able to rather quickly wrap something up. Feel free to try it out.

We created a click through prototype with Invision.



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