How would you improve Outlook for the use case when people get overwhelmed by number of emails received after returning from a vacation?

Hemant Kumar Singh
3 min readDec 31, 2023

Okay we will start with what are goals we are trying to achieve, what are the problems faced currently followed by our solutions and how we would implement it and finally validate our solution.

Let’s start with goals:

  1. Have a clutter free experience of reading emails after a user returns back from vacation.
  2. Not miss out on any priority or mandatory meetings and tasks.
  3. Be updated on the info from all emails without actually reading it.

The current scenario:

  • All the emails received by the customer loads up in reverse chronological order and the number of emails is overwhelming.
  • There is no grouping or distinction for emails of the same type say, Pull Request and deployments email, expired meetings invite.
  • The user has to manually go through at least the subject of each email to make a decision whether to read it or not.

Just giving a thought, these are some potential solutions:

  1. We could change the look of Outlook and club all the emails in Inbox to different categories as described above. But that would change the entire look of outlook which people might not be comfortable with.
  2. We could use generative AI to send all the unread emails during the vacation and get back a summary of all of them in 100words or so which can be displayed via a pop-up or output as speech. But this has the limitation that if the user wants to open and read the email he has to manually do it.
  3. When Outlook loads up, we can show a small prompt asking if the user wants us to help them with clearing up all the unread emails and then show a pop-up with proper categorization.

I would want to expand on the 3rd idea while using some parts of 2nd idea inside it. This is how we can go about the implementation of the same:

  • As mentioned earlier, we would have a prompt asking the user if they want a tailored email reading experience. Once they select yes, we would show a pop-up.
  • The pop-up would categorize all the received emails into several categories like:
    1. Important Emails(emails with the important tag)
    2. Direct Emails (sent only to the receiver)
    3. Group Emails (sent to the DLs the receiver is a part of)
    4. Company Updates (although a subset of 1, we would separate this)
    5. PRs and Deployments
    6. Expired Meetings
    7. Upcoming Meetings
    8. External Emails (emails outside the organization)
  • Now we would summarize all the emails under each category by making use of Generative AI and option to output via text or speech and displaying this on the top of each category’s page followed by the emails.
  • This would specially be helpful for Expired Meetings wherein the user can get the MoM of the meeting without the need to checkup with colleagues.
  • Thereafter we would list all the emails under that category with the regular option to Mark as Read, Star etc.
  • When the user clicks on the close button once they’re done checking their mails we would still want the user to give access to this email recap and would add this as a button somewhere in the Menu.

Finally, validating our solution would be pretty straight forward.

The first approach is to ask the user for feedback once they are done reading all the emails and click on the close button.

The other approach is to add trackers for each click of the buttons and monitor how many clicks did the user perform giving us the data on engagement and we can also monitor how much time did they spend on the pop-up we created before they clicked on close. The higher the numbers the better it is, but if the numbers are low it means that we did something wrong that the user is not willing to use the feature we created and would resort to their original situation, in that case we need to do RCCA.