Gartner: Beware of business spam

Peek over your cube wall. That mild-mannered person sitting next you might actually be your e-mail nemesis: an insidious spammer who sends out mocking happy faces in response to office correspondence and who always selects “reply to all.”

That’s right, according to an “occupational spam” study released Thursday by IT research company Gartner Group Inc., gratuitous inter-office e-mail has become a huge problem.

Business e-mailers intending to send helpful messages or cover their backs by copying the entire company are flooding in-boxes, straining networks , wasting heaps of time, and possibly, hordes of money.

According to Gartner’s survey of 330 business e-mail users, in primarily U.S. companies ranging from 20 to 10,000 employees, 42 percent of respondents said that they are flat-out getting too much e-mail, and spend an average of 49 minutes a day just managing it. Nearly a fourth of those surveyed spend more than an hour a day sifting through mail, Gartner reports. And despite all this effort, respondents said that only 27 percent of their mail requires their immediate attention.

“There’s no spam filter in the world that is going to block this, which is why it is particularly insidious,” says Neil MacDonald, a vice president and research director with Gartner.

McDonald points out that unlike traditional spam, which usually comes from strangers trying to sell you something, “occupational spam,” as Gartner researchers call it, is deceptive because it comes from people you know and work with.

“This is e-mail from your friends and colleagues … that is worthless,” MacDonald says.

To avoid getting bogged down in mounds of e-mail, Gartner released a list of recommendations that include such helpful tips as “count to 10 before hitting ‘reply all’ — then count to 20” and “assume that agreement is implied … avoid sending needless responses of concurrence like ‘I’m with you 100 percent.'”

Other more substantial Gartner advice suggests that companies invest in intranet tools for remote team collaboration, such as chatrooms, and identify the one person in the department who will “own” an e-mail thread and can communicate the ideas to co-workers without copying everyone on e-mail.

By ridding themselves of occupational spam, companies can save employees 30 percent of the time it takes to manage their e-mail, Gartner says. The research company suggests that all companies should have an e-mail policy in place, as well as standards for e-mail etiquette.

But even if companies manage to shore up the flood of inter-office e-mail, another predator still lurks in the waters: the constant e-mail checker. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed by Gartner reported that they were checking their e-mail more than 10 times a day.

E-mail, it seems, has become a modern workplace obsession. And beside the work-efficiency problem it creates, out of control e-mail poses a problem in terms of the use of technology, MacDonald says.

Gartner initiated the spam study to examine the emergence and emphasis of handheld devices to access e-mail. Without trimming down the flow of e-mail, these handheld devices will be overloaded with basically useless e-mail.

“Until people get their e-mail under control, it’s going to be very difficult to access e-mail from handheld devices,” says MacDonald.

So, before your e-mail-enabled cell phone misses that crucial mail from your most important client, politely ask your neighbor to can the spam.

Gartner Group, in Stamford, Connecticut, can be reached at +1-203-316-1111 or via the Web at