Banning e-mail at work?

From The Atlantic:

What would happen if you couldn’t e-mail colleagues at work? What would happen if you didn’t have to read e-mails from colleagues at work?

One of the largest technology companies in Europe is looking to ban office email. Are they ahead of the curve, or are they totally ignoring the origins of our communications kluge?

One of Europe’s largest technology companies has a new rule for employees. Get off email. Get on instant messenger.
Atos CEO Thierry Breton claims the amount of email pinging around his 50,000-employee company (which is about the size of Apple) is “unsustainable,” forcing managers to spend up to 25 hours a week reading and writing emails. He told employees that the company plans to phase out email between colleagues over the next three years. “Email will still be used for external communications, but employees will be expected to use collaboration and social media tools instead of email to communicate with fellow co-workers,” theFinancial Times reports.

Banning intra-office email: Horrible counter-productive idea, or inspired work-flow enhancer?

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Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Kelly

    And all of the introverts fainted.

  • Kelly

    Seriously, though, I wouldn’t ban it because often there are points, ideas, decisions made in emails which need to be preserved. Even if everyone met face to face or spoke over the phone, someone would have to send something written giving the details. Email is a good source for recording information.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    In the company I am working in we are quite heavy into IM communications and collaboration tools. What this does is it forces conversations to either be ad hoc, or documented, not both. People are tending to see email as method of passive documentation for what is happening, but it is actually not very good for that. Better is to make formal documentation for the things that need to be documented and no documentation for the things that don’t.

    Could be a wave of the future.

  • Rick

    We use IM or texting for dialogue about more immediate/real time issues.

    Emails are generally preserved for more detailed, non- urgent, issues (which as Kelly #2 stated) need to be preserved.

  • http://www.mwerickson.com Matt Erickson

    I really like this idea. Amongst other things, email does two things at the same time, one positive and one negative:
    1) email forces people to develop and think out their thoughts
    2) email enables over-quick communication that leads to inbox flooding

    Matt

  • Joe Canner

    I sympathize with the idea, but don’t see how it could possibly work in most situations. Certainly, for a quick back-and-forth between two people, IM would be better. However any conversations that involve multiple parties and/or require documentation would need to be done by e-mail. When there are multiple parties, all of them are not likely to be available simultaneously for an IM and it doesn’t seem practical to keep a bunch of IM chats open waiting for all parties to respond, especially if the conversation is not time sensitive and spans several days.

    So, I think you can encourage IM for certain situations but I don’t know how you could require it. But maybe I’m missing something…

  • Kristin

    I actually think Google Wave could work as an intraoffice email/chat/collaboration tool. May it RIP.

  • Fish

    “…employees will be expected to use collaboration and social media tools instead of email…”

    He is simply ahead of the curve. If I email something to my 15-year-old, I have to verbally tell her about it or she won’t check. But if I send her a message on facebook, she’s all over it instantly.

    Email is a dying tool. How many of us start each day by deleting a bunch of messages without even reading them?

    The relational difference between email and social networking is critical. You can invade my email in-box as a total stranger without my permission, but we have to have some type of relationship before you can communicate with me via social networking. The former is controlled by you; the latter is controlled by me.

    But I get blank looks at church when I talk about this. If they had their way, they’d spam the congregation every day about one program or another. They don’t get that the industry average for church emails is only about 22% opens. 78% are either deleted unread or read on a device that disallows tracking.

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    I think he’s actually behind. I was using IM as a primary way to communicate to co-workers at a travel-sales company four years ago. It’s all about levels of communication; if you need to hash out details with someone ad-hoc, go to IM; need to document something in writing, send it via e-mail for future reference.

  • Joe Canner

    Fish #8: You make a good point about the distinction between e-mail and social media, but that only solves part of the problem (spam). The article is referring to intra-office e-mail, which is presumably spam-free. Moving intra-office e-mail to social media (e.g., Facebook Inbox) would not change the volume of mail or the time required to read and reply. The one thing it *could* do is solve the documentation problem mentioned previously: Facebook Chat sessions are automatically converted to Inbox Messages.

    BTW, I believe Sarbanes-Oxley requires US companies to maintain archives of all e-mail communication. The spirit of the law (if not the letter) would seem to require an archive of most instant messages and chats as well. (And if it doesn’t, it should, especially if IMing is used to get around the law.)

  • DSO

    I think we need to reintroduce the vacuum tubes.

    Now if we can just figure out what to do about the telephone.

  • Jerry Sather

    Whatever happened to the telephone?

  • Pat Pope

    I don’t know. Where I work I don’t think there’s any good solution. Tons of e-mail strings go back and forth on the same topic until there is a satisfactory resolution reached. BUT, instant messenger is annoying because when you’re trying to work, someone will ping you interrupting what you’re working on. You answer them, try to go back to your task and the lo and behold, you’re pinged again. It’s very annoying and some people have been known to sign out of messenger altogether, make themselves invisible to the most annoying of co-workers or put themselves on Do Not Disturb. At least with e-mail, you don’t have someone sitting there on the other end of the communication pinging you for an answer.

    I guess one of the solutions that my company has opted for to handle the space issue is that they automatically purge e-mails out of your inbox if you have not classified them in some way in a given period of time. That might be the better solution vs. banning e-mail altogether.

  • Kenny Johnson

    Hate it.

    When people IM or call me on the phone, I almost ALWAYS ask them to please send me an email. Why? I want documentation and I use email to track my To Do list. If I get an email asking me to address something, I flag it and it get auto-organized into my “Follow-up” folder.

    I’d have a tough time adjusting to no email.

  • Kenny Johnson

    Fish,

    Isn’t a Facebook message still “email”? It’s just contained within the Facebook universe. . . but’s an offline message (no IM), in my opinion, still qualifies as Email.

  • Kenny Johnson

    @Pat #13

    I agree. I often hate IM because it’s such a distraction. In fact, I used to have Office Communicator turned off for nearly a year because people would IM me several times a day. After telling people over and over that I’d like the request in email, people started to learn. . .

  • Pat Pope

    @Kenny, the one I hate is when people see through your IM icon that you’re online, but they ping you first saying, “You there?” Then if you are, they ping you AGAIN with whatever it is they want. Sigh…..

  • MatthewS

    For some things, having an intranet with wiki pages, blogs and/or discussion groups can be helpful – I’m referring here to intranet, for internal use.

    Sometimes I like to use something like the Pomodoro technique (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/)and not check or respond to email instantly.

    Without seeing more of the plan for avoiding email, it’s hard to believe that simply banning internal email solves all the problems. I wonder if it won’t just push the same problems off of email into the “social network” space, whatever that even precisely means in this case. I don’t know – the fact that managers are spending that much time on email may not be the fault of email, it may be the fault of the business processes they are following. Banning email may or may not address those processes in a meaningful way. It sort of sounds like a “Dilbert” script to me.

  • Ann F-R

    That is really funny from our personal history w/ Atos (then, Atos Origin). My husband was the very last employee retained by Atos in Colorado after 6 years of mergers & laying off over 600 people, there. Given the time zones across which he worked – from Pacific time to the eastern Mediterranean – it was bad enough when he had to be coherent for conference calls in the middle of the night. He took the calls in the basement because we had young children in school. I’m trying to imagine how this could work within Atos, in particular, given our experience! From my POV, it sounds like an upper management idea which many folks may just roll their eyes at and figure an email equivalent work around.

  • Ann F-R

    BTW, to add a note of cynicism to the issue, there is a strong element of accountability for honoring commitments that is trackable via emails. There are companies who’ve claimed [deliberately caused, given timing?] hard drive crashes on servers which covered up serious legal and ethical violations. Consider the news accounts of fraud, breaches of contracts and laws, cover-ups, etc., that are provable via email trails. Been there, seen it, very, very ugly.

  • Harald Solheim

    I totally agree with DRT #3. In the company where I work we use both email, collaboration tools, and IM. My observation is that a lot of information are communicated via email that would be better distributed and documented using the collaborative tools we have. What we end up with is that the information is buried in long email conversation threads and that there is very little transparency in who has access to the information. For most, if not all, intra-office communications there are better tools for the job than email. I think the Atlantic article to a large degree misses the mark, focusing to such a large extent on the feasibility of IM.


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