In the Briefing Room: Harmon.ie

E-mail and SharePoint, living in harmony?

One of the weakest points in knowledge worker productivity and effectiveness is the constant need to switch among applications and windows while working.  These additional steps take extra time; they also increase the likelihood of errors.  The reasons for this are myriad and range from the time penalty of moving between applications to the exposure to interruptions that sidetrack and delay work.

The concept of a Collaborative Business Environment, which includes the vaunted One Environment Rule, both anticipates and describes this problem.  It also provides direction in terms of how to address this problem. Simply put, the One Environment Rule states that the more knowledge workers stay in one overarching environment to do their work, the more likely it is that the initiative will succeed, and the knowledge workers will be productive.  Conversely, the more the knowledge workers are forced to switch work environments, the more likely they are to fail in their tasks.

We are increasingly seeing products in the marketplace that adhere to the CBE philosophy.  Last week met with Harmon.ie, a company whose eponymously-named product promises to deliver “social e-mail”.

To do this, Harmon.ie provides a sidebar that works with Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes e-mail clients.  This sidebar provides access to SharePoint files from the respective e-mail clients, as well as collaboration features such as presence awareness and instant messaging, via integration with Microsoft OCS or IBM Lotus Sametime, depending on the edition.

The mantra behind the offering, as articulated to us by David Lavenda, vice president of marketing and product strategy, is “One window, one context.”  Obviously, this appeals to us as the creators of the One Environment Rule.

Where Harmon.ie really shines however, is the way in which it deals with poor e-mail behavior, namely the gratuitous sending of attachments.  If users send a file as an attachment, they are prompted by the system to confirm whether they actually want to send the attachment, or have the system instead automatically place the file into SharePoint and replace the file in the e-mail with a link.

Research conducted by Basex in 2010 revealed that 60% of knowledge workers e-mail documents as attachments to colleagues for review.  Due to the resulting confusion when managing the multiple copies of a document this method creates, over 40% of knowledge workers miss edits and changes in documents that they get back from review.  Keeping documents in a repository and sending links not only keeps inboxes from becoming overcrowded with large files, but also avoids the many problems that creep into a document review process when reviewers work on stand-alone copies of the document.

Our research and observations at Basex have shown that modifying individual behavior patterns is extremely hard to do.  Knowledge workers, like all humans, tend to resist change and by default will fall back to what they see as the path of least resistance, even if that path is actually harder and more time consuming.  Managing document review by e-mail attachments, and making the inbox the hub of one’s work both fall into this category.  For a variety of reasons, the inbox may not be the best place to center knowledge work around, but the reality is that knowledge workers spend vast amounts of time there, and are unlikely change that behavior anytime soon.

Solutions that take the approach Harmon.ie is taking, which is to improve the tool that is already in use (e-mail) by streamlining processes and automatically correcting bad behavior (such as sending files as attachments), have great potential in terms of improving everyone’s effectiveness and efficiency by precisely adhering to the principles of the One Environment Rule, and because they do not force a large scale behavior change on the user.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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