Aug 23, 2020

Automated Notifications are Ruining Your Team's Productivity

Post by 
Michael Muse

nvariably, the very first form of workflow automation put into place is the Email Alert. An email alerts is usually used for catching problems, triggering intra-team handoffs, managing up, creating lists of work to be done, and tracking what’s been accomplished. The problem is, it is a terrible way to accomplish any of these things. And worse, we see this feature more pervasively than any other automation.

Notifications should only be used when the recipient is expected to think ‘ok, got it’, and immediately discard the notification. I’ve observed that leaders of excellent operations teams do not use notifications for any other purpose, and here’s why:

1. Obviously, constant interruptions are bad

  • Slack fatigue is real. COVID, physical isolation and the challenges of remote work have us all constantly tapping coworkers on the shoulder (virtually) when an email would do 
  • It doesn’t just feel bad. It’s been very well documented that the constant flow of interruptions crushes productivity, taking people out of their deep work and slowing progress. The proliferation of Slack and Microsoft Teams is making it worse
  • For sure, interruptions are the (non-)silent killer. A common counter (here’s the CEO of Slack crushing me in a debate) is that for important work, interruption is not equal to distraction

But the distraction vs. real work debate is almost a red herring. Notifications are brutal to productivity either way:

There’s a bigger problem than just the interruption

Here are other crucially important, but less obvious problems with notifications. 

2. Email/Chat is hard to prioritize

Most email clients are sorted by date. And folder/tag systems help, but generally, working through email or chats is done Last In, First Out (LIFO). This encourages you to prioritize new work, putting more on your plate, do more context switching, and deprioritizing work you’re close to finishing. This is without a doubt, the single worst productivity killer at your company.

3. Email isn't visible to the team

What’s on Bill’s plate? Is any of it old that he may need help on? Maybe he’s helping a seller get a deal across the line. Has he made any progress? Better ping him! 

This is the sound of an out of sync team, searching for visibility, creating new interruptions,  compounding the problem. If you’re tracking work in software, it should be visible. Unread emails in BIll’s inbox are not visible to anyone other than him. 

4. Email isn’t measurable

Are we doing timely QBRs? If the team uses email reminders as their to-do list, the way they mark them ‘done’ is by archiving the reminder. No way to track the average number of days they worked on it, or the time it took to ship after quarter’s end. When leadership asks for a dashboard on your CSM team’s progress against the new Executive Business Review process, you’ll come up with only shallow vanity metrics and lagging indicators like anecdotes, instead of true leading indicators like input metrics.

5. Email can break silently (people dont tell admin)

‘Yeah I haven’t done that in a while. I stopped getting the emails and I’m busy with other things.’ This is one of the most frequent types of dropped ball you’ll encounter, and it’s devastatingly dangerous. The problem with the black box of notifications is we don’t know when they stop coming. And you’d be surprised how often your team won’t tell you they stopped coming. 

6. Email is a crowded channel

‘What’s the latest with that? … Let me track down that email’. ‘Sorry, this was buried in my inbox’. You should never intentionally make real work compete for attention with Taco Tuesday reminders, newsletters, or the latest team email thread that’s gone off the rails and should have been a meeting.

7. Email can’t trigger workflow automations

Churn Threat notifications don’t update Account Health to Red. Successful churn prevention doesn’t move it back to green. Email inboxes don’t trigger changes CRM data. Maybe an onboarding notification got sent to a group inbox. Sales doesn’t even know who’s working on the onboarding for the new customer they worked so hard to get. 

What should you use instead of notifications?

There are all sorts of workflow management tools. Apps like Asana, Trello, Smartsheet, Process Street, Wrangle, or Mavenlink are designed to move workflows into more structured objects. But we actually recommend you use a dedicated Project Management tool and sync it with a custom object for Projects in Salesforce

The best thing about putting work in a true project management software, or at very least, a dedicated object in your CRM, is that doing the work can automatically update related data, and eventually the work steps your team needs to take can be automated. Maybe a shell Quarterly Business Review document gets created. Maybe the first step of order fulfillment is auto-scheduling a training session. Your team’s email inboxes can’t do these things.

Some Notifications shouldn’t come through Email or Chat

Maybe you already have a custom object, and you’re just using email alerts to notify as they are created. Do you really need to know in realtime? Maybe use a scheduled report and get a digest every morning, once a week, or even set it to only come if issues arrive.  We’ve got you covered with a whole guide of best practices to do just that.

Every team has different needs. We can help you design the best workflow management process for your team. Shoot us a chat or email today!

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