Applying Human Interaction Management Concepts to E-Mailing: A Visualized Conceptual Model

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Over the past years electronic mail has become one of the dominant forms of communication in the workplace, and replaced to a great extent other forms of written communication such as paper correspondence and fax. E-mail was designed as a simple messaging platform and is widely used as such, but has in addition become the number one collaborative application for knowledge workers, and used as a platform for other areas of work such as personal archiving and task management (Whittaker & Sidner, 1996). In many places of work, users have to manage large amounts of e-mail, and there are indications that experienced users receive between 100 and 200 e-mail messages a day (Schuff, Turetken, & D'Arcy, 2006). It is thus evident that many users face a problem of information overload in an environment designed to facilitate communication. E-mail overload is particularly a problem for high-level employees, for knowledge workers and in enterprises where large amounts of important information are exchanged.

Human Interaction Management (HIM) is a relatively new concept emphasizing human interactions such as communication, teamwork, planning and knowledge sharing. According to one of its proponents, Harrison-Broninski (2008), traditional Business Process Management fails to support dynamic human-driven processes based on humans collaborating and inventing, and explicitly mentions high-level work, knowledge work and sectors where human activity is critical. He proposes a practical framework and notation where processes are arranged by their users as work goes on, and past knowledge and experience is actively used to improve these dynamic processes. HIM can be applied using Human Interaction Management Systems (HIMSs). Although HumanEdj, a well-known HIMS, has a built-in e-mail client to support interaction management features it only addresses e-mail overload in a limited way.

From the above there is a motivation to try to combine already existing scientific research on email overload with the HIM principles that apply to it, to discover new means of addressing the problem of e-mail overload. Consequently, our research question is:

* How can HIM principles contribute to dealing with e-mail overload?

To address this question, a conceptual model will be constructed based on strategies from existing literature on e-mail overload combined with HIM principles. The model can be seen as a contribution both to knowledge about HIM and the research field of information overload. To validate the model, its key elements will be implemented as features in a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook, a widely used e-mail client. The model can also be seen as a vision for one of the possible directions of the future development of e-mail clients.

The rest of the paper first outlines the literature on which we base our problem statement and proposed model. The construction of the model is then explained in detail. The features of the above mentioned plug-in are explained and rationalized with regard to the model, and screenshots from a non-working prototype are shown. Finally, suggestions for further development of the application are made, its deployment to support empirical research on the model is discussed, and other suggestions on how to validate the model are laid down.

E-MAIL OVERLOAD

Information overload is not new. Bawden, Holtham, and Courtney (1999) summarize that information overload "occurs when information received becomes a hindrance rather than help when the information is potentially useful." (p 249) The causes of this can largely be attributed to the increasing amounts of available information, effect of new technologies, more emphasis on collaborative work and the fact that end-users increasingly search for information themselves instead of using an intermediary.

One of these technologies, electronic mail, was introduced to some offices in the 1980s to facilitate internal communication about business matters. …