Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Business Phasing Out Email

It’s no secret that email is messy. You can never say with certainty that a message, once sent, will be delivered, and when you receive a message, you cannot really tell where or when it originated or who wrote it. The vast majority of email messages, more than 99 percent, are junk messages, mechanically generated by organized crime groups. Most are filtered out at servers along the way, and legitimate messages are filtered out along with them. Both junk and legitimate email can carry destructive computer programs such as viruses, and can hide links to malicious web programs. It is no surprise that people are looking for ways to move away from email.

And in France, Atos has decided that time has come. Susanna Kim writes about this company’s efforts at ABC News: “Tech Firm Implements Employee ‘Zero Email’ Policy.” In a study, Atos found that its 74,000 employees receive an average of 200 email messages per day. It is a pattern that is too unproductive to carry on, they say, so they are cutting back on email with an eye toward phasing it out.

With 200 email messages per day, the workplace becomes the written equivalent of a shouting match. It is hard for the important information to rise above the noise. There are no easy answers for a worker who receives this many messages. If they were to spend one minute reading each message and five minutes responding to one message out of ten, there would be no time in the workday for anything else. Yet not every message can be read in one minute. Aside from the time spent on receiving messages, email is also an awkward format for searching and archiving, both of which are essential for business messages.

I personally receive an average of 1,000 email messages per day. For the most part, I keep up with this flow, but how do I do it? Let’s just say it is a skill I couldn’t teach and it does not feel like the right answer.

Executives at Atos have already stopped sending email, and employees in total have cut back by 20 percent. The company says it can cut back email back to “zero” within two years. It may not happen that quickly, but the flow of messages can easily be reduced by 95 percent in that time. That much can be accomplished by finding more appropriate forums for broadcast messages, notifications, reminders, collaborative discussions, and similar forms of messages that fit only awkwardly in the email format.