(This first appeared on the Go Free Range blog.)

At Go Free Range we get plenty of email, and a good chunk of it, alas, isn't just delightful pictures of kittens. Things like:

  • New project leads
  • Questions from existing clients
  • Reminders from our accountant
  • Notices from HMRC
  • Requests from our landlord

… all of which involve a bit of thinking, occasionally some work on our part, and a response.

Rather than have a single individual responsible for dealing with communication in and our of our company, we prefer to distribute that responsibility. However, for all the benefits of doing this, there is a price: coordination.

As a business, we want to be confident we are handling all our responsibilities and opportunities, but when we are all also busy building software, it's very easy for emails like this -- the stuff that's orthogonal to the creative work we do -- to slip between the cracks and be forgotten.

What could we possibly do to avoid this? I wonder if you can guess…

Harmonia handles your email

The key to making this work is communicating responsibility, one of the fundamental problems that Harmonia solves with recurring tasks and chores like week-notes, invoicing and so on. So why not use the same tool to assign responsibility for emails, which can essentially be treated as one-off tasks?

An example

Let's say we get an email from someone who has an exciting new product idea, and would like to talk about building it with us.

"An email from a prospective client"

Rather than filing this, or leaving it in my inbox, or just hoping that somebody else is going to reply at some point, I immediately forward it straight into Harmonia using my team-specific Harmonia email address:

Forwarding that email to my Harmonia team email address

I've changed the subject line of the email to be something that gives a stronger hint about what the next step is, and add a sentence or two to the body for context, and then hit send. I then immediately get back to whatever I was working on before, having spent less than a minute away from my work.

Behind the scenes, Harmonia receives the email and creates a one-off task in the right team:

Soon, the task appears, ready to be assigned

You can see that the subject of the forwarded email has become the name of the task, and it's going to be assigned to someone in our team in the next minute or so. A moment or two later:

The task is assigned, and everyone notified of who needs to deal with it

The task is assigned, and Harmonia has emailed the team to notify us all about who is responsible for handling the email.

If we look at the task in more detail, you can see that the body of the email (including the few words I added) are right there, so that whoever is assigned already has a lot of the information they may need to deal with the task:

The task contains the content of the email we forwarded

Everybody in the team is able to tell immediately that they don't need to stop what they are doing and deal with this email, because everyone knows that Chris is going to make sure it gets done (even if that means collaborating with others, of course). It's this communication of responsibility that allows us to keep doing our creative work with the minimum of worry or distraction.

Creating new tasks by emailing

Harmonia can work with more than just forwarded emails; you can send any email to your team's email address, and a new task will be created. It turns out this can be a really convenient way of creating tasks, particularly when accessing the website isn't convenient.

Realise that you need to renew a subscription while you're on a bus? Just send Harmonia an email, and it will ensure that your team knows it needs to be done.

How can I get this?

Firstly, [sign up to Harmonia][]!

Once you've done that, and created your first team, your team settings page includes a section explaining how emailing works, and most importantly what your unique team email address is:

Your team settings page is available via the team popup menu in the top right of the screen

To help introduce the feature, we've also added a button to each team dashboard which will open a new message in your default email client, along with a direct link to the email help on the settings page:

"Your team settings page is available via the team popup menu in the top right of the screen"

I recommended adding your Harmonia team email address to your address book, so it's as quick as possible to send and forward messages there. Being able to push these messages into Harmonia quickly is really great.

A few caveats

Since this is a relatively new feature, and because there are so many different email clients (each with their own quirks) there may be some kinks yet to iron out. If you do experience any problems, please do let us know and we will do our best to help you out.

  • Each team has its own email address, so if you're a member of multiple teams, you'll need to be careful that you are sending your messages to the appropriate team.
  • Harmonia will only accept messages sent by members of the given team. This helps protect your tasks from spam and abuse, but it does also mean that you must ensure that you send or forward your emails from the same email account that you signed up to Harmonia with. We're hoping to make this a bit smarter in the future.
  • At the moment attachments are not visible using the web interface, but along with a few other email-related ideas that we're really excited about, we hope to improve on this in the future.

So, what are you waiting for? Sign up to Harmonia and get emailing!