An interesting article in the British business publication Financial Times about how many companies–including high-tech companies–are trying to do away with e-mail:
“We believe email is fundamentally unproductive, you need to sift through too many documents and things get lost,” says Leerom Segal, president and chief executive of Klick, a Canadian digital marketing company. “It has no prioritisation, no workflow, and assumes that the most important item is the one at the top. My business partner became so frustrated with how dumb email was, that 14 years ago he began to build better tools for us to manage workflow.”
Klick, which has over 200 staff, now uses email only to communicate with external clients, while internally all messages go through Genome, its self-designed system which enables users to monitor tasks in a workflow. The programme works so well that Klick is now receiving inquiries from clients interested in installing the system in their own offices. The company has 10 employees working full-time on developing the network.
“When we started this, we never thought it could completely replace email,” says Mr Segal. We thought it would be used for specific tasks requiring a response. But before you know it, it was being used for every task.”
Other companies have opted for social networking tools such as Yammer to replace some of the function of email. For example, Capgemini, the IT services company, says it has reduced its internal email traffic by 40 per cent in the 18 months since staff began using Yammer. About 20 per cent of companies are estimated to have experimented with using social networks to connect employees.
The appeal of social networking over email is that it puts people in control of the information they see. Rather than material flooding unasked into the inbox, employees can subscribe to just the social networking groups and topics they are interested in, and read the information at a time of their choosing.
Other companies, while not necessarily looking to replace email, are looking for ways to lessen its use. Intel, for example, has experimented with “no-email Fridays” encouraging engineers to solve problems by phone or face to face instead.
Indeed, email has become a symbol of stress for employees, according to a a paper published earlier this year in Organisation Science, an academic journal of management.
“Most companies are grappling with email overload,” says Monica Seely, an email management expert at Mesmo, a consultancy, and author of Brilliant Email. “Companies are losing up to 20 days per person per year, dealing with email poorly.”
Mr Breton estimates that managers at Atos spend between five and 25 hours a week dealing with email.
Ms Seely says most people receive over 100 emails per day, and feel pressure to answer these quickly. Studies have shown that a quarter of people expect answers to their emails within an hour, with a third expecting a response within two hours. It is impossible to meet these demands.
“We live in an instant gratification society where we expect a response immediately. People at the receiving end feel like they need to constantly check email,” she says.
Andy Mulholland, chief technology officer at Capgemini, says email works poorly for people working in unstructured roles, such as engineers solving IT problems. “Someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, so you send out emails to everyone you know. Out of 20 people, 19 have their time wasted and the 20th gives you half an answer,” he explains. Social networking, in this case, can give faster and better answers.
The internal/external communication distinction might be a useful one. But can’t social networking be just as much of a time waster? The beauty if e-mail would seem to be that it can be targetted to one and only one individual. Perhaps getting rid of e-mail advertisements and mass mailings would help. What do you think about this?