Organizations Seek Answer to Dreaded “Reply All”

To cut through employees’ cluttered email inboxes, organizations are beginning to find ways to turn off the “reply all” function.

No one likes being a part of long email chains that have little relevance to the work they’re doing. Now imagine being a part of an email with nearly 40,000 recipients, and every time someone responds to the thread, they hit “reply all.” It doesn’t take long to open and delete an email, but multiply a few seconds by thousands, and that’s a lot of wasted time.

I was trying to forward the [original] message to my mom, to get her input on paperless tax forms, but all of NYU was cc’ed accidentally.

That’s exactly what happened at New York University recently in what has been awkwardly dubbed “Replyallcalypse 2012.” One inadvertent click of “reply all” on an email—sent using an older, discussion-based list server program—opened the floodgates. The entire student body received Max Wiseltier’s email and was caught in the ensuing chain of pictures, jokes, and snarky replies that went around for days.

“I was trying to forward the [original] message to my mom, to get her input on paperless tax forms, but all of NYU was cc’ed accidentally,” Wiseltier, a sophomore, told NYU Local, the university’s student-run blog.

Inboxes exploded overnight, and there was no way for recipients to remove themselves from the chain.

Such occurrences are why organizations are beginning to find ways to remove the “reply all” function from their email systems.

Aside from reducing the chance of workplace humiliation (or being fired), removing the “reply all” function could lead to greater productivity. According to a recent study by McKinsey Global Institute, the average worker spends 2.6 hours per day reading and responding to electronic communications. And Jonathan Spira, the chief analyst for the research firm Basex, recently told the Wall Street Journal that for every 100 people needlessly copied on an email, eight hours of productivity are lost.

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article cited several efforts being made to reduce or completely remove “reply all” capabilities:

Microsoft has introduced a plug-in option for its Outlook program called NoReplyAll, which allows senders to prevent recipients from “replying all” to their message.

Sperry Software has developed a program called Reply to All Monitor, which alerts a user when he or she clicks “reply all” and asks, “Are you sure you want to reply to everyone?”

Nielsen, the global information and measurement firm, made the “reply all” button inactive, though this setting can be reversed with an override function on the keyboard.

The head of a sales division at Wells Fargo couldn’t get the button removed but imposed a “gentlemen’s agreement” on his staff to refrain from using it.

Have you taken any steps to reduce the use of the “reply all” function? Let us know in the comments.


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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