Question: delete or archive emails?

One of the most important business tools is email. It allows us to stay in touch with the office and each other regardless of our location. While email is useful, it’s not perfect. One issue is that we receive so many emails, with up to a 100 a day or more. This has led to many an overload and meltdown; there’s just simply too many emails to get through. So, what do most people do? Delete them. However, this deletion could lead to problems.

When it comes down to it there are usually two options for users to keep their inbox from overflowing. They can either archive or delete emails.

Archiving or deleting emails
These are features that are available to most email clients. By archiving email you essentially remove them from your inbox, usually into another folder. When you archive emails, they are still retrievable, and you are still able to search for them and access the information within them.

Deleting emails on the other hand is different. Yes, your emails are removed, but they will usually not disappear instantly. Most email programs move deleted emails into a trash folder. Some clients are set up to empty the folder on a daily basis, while others delete instantly or when they’ve set the program to. However, once you empty the trash, it’s very hard to get these deleted emails back.

To archive or delete?
The issue of whether to delete or archive emails is a bit cloudy. For personal accounts it’s a little easier: If the email is junk, spam, or contains useless information, it’s safe to delete it. For businesses, you can go ahead and delete junk emails, but for many other emails it may be a better idea to archive emails. Here’s a number of reasons why:

It’s the law
Depending which country and industry your company operates in, there may be rules and regulations that state how long you should keep emails in your system for. For example: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FCRP) in the US state that if a company can anticipate legal action from information contained within a message, or series of messages, it must keep/store (archive) them.

The EU has similar, yet slightly more complicated rules. The Data Protection Directive (DPA) of the EU states that, “Personal data must be stored, but no longer than necessary…The subjects of emails, the “Data Subjects,” have the right to access information about the storage and access to their personal data and to request accurate copies. If you operate in the EU, you must furnish personal information stored in email or otherwise, if asked for it. The kicker is: If you’ve deleted emails with such information, you are obligated to provide these as well.

Most other countries have laws similar to these, so it’s better to err on the safe side and check with a lawyer to ensure you know exactly what the rules are.

Storage isn’t an issue
In the past, emails took up precious storage, so you really had no other choice but to delete messages. Nowadays, that’s not an issue, especially for users of services like Gmail who get upwards of 10GB (more than enough to store all of your emails). This allows you to archive emails while keeping your inbox clean, and not having to worry about the law.

Email is a form of data
Data is becoming big business. While it’s highly likely that many small to medium businesses won’t be implementing Big Data practices anytime in the near future, data in emails is still important. Say for instance you get an order for X amount of Y last year, and you were so busy you just filled the order but didn’t fill in the proper records. When that client emails again, the only other information you have is from previous emails. If you delete it, that information is gone.

Beyond that, many decisions are made through and recorded in email these days, delete that important email with next year’s budget decision on it and you could be in trouble.

Archive or delete?
We’re not suggesting you should keep all of your emails. In fact, the above reasons for archiving all have one thing in common: Useful information. This is key, as if information in an email isn’t useful to you, your company or colleagues, or is stored in another location, you can probably delete messages.

Some people disagree with this view though and in fact some lawyers advise deleting emails due to the fact that they could turn out to be a liability one day. There are tons of stories of someone sending an inappropriate email to friends, only to have it leak to an unintended recipient. Situations like this could ruin your company.

What do you do/think? Do you delete your emails or archive them? Let us know.

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