Is it time to do away with email?

by Nestor E. Arellano

I’ll be off this Friday and two more days next week. My editor, Brian, will be taking a few days off this week as well and I imagine a few other writers at IT World Canada will be taking some staggered days off during the holiday season just as most workers in other companies will be this month and the next.

A good way to catch up on rest, spend some quality time with family and hopefully get away from work email.

But maybe that last thought on email isn’t quite right. Could you imagine how much mail your inbox would accumulate if it went unattended for even just a couple of days?

Nestor Arellano

Email overload has been a constant complaint ever since the technology was introduced to corporate communication. I seriously think that whatever amount of paper mail email might have done away with, it has returned a hundred fold in digital correspondence – to the point that the typical workforce is now weighed down by the daily churn of online messages pinging back and fort at the office.

Some studies say that if a worker receives an average of 15 emails a day, reading through them could take up at least an hour of interrupted work. If that worker is part of a 20-person workplace that could amount to 20 hours of work time lost each day or a loss of $2000 per week based on $20//hour salary. A survey by also found that 70 per cent of emails sent at work were had no relevance to work at all.

We have become so attached (like PDF files) to the email process. Emailing, it seems has replaced other practices even those that we did without paper. We email colleagues just to find out if they’re in, email jokes and photos, we email to create an audit trail. To cut down on the data deluge, some workplaces have instituted non-email days in an effort to cut down on the online exchange. But I fear that such efforts at corporate intervention against our email addiction would only backfire – no email Thursdays morphing into email tsunami Fridays for instance.

Perhaps this is why the recent announcement by French IT services company, Atos Origin that it intends to becomes a zero email company is making a lot of waves.

Thierry Breton, the company’s chief executive, says the volume of emails Atos sends and receives has become “unsustainable for business.” According to Thierry, managers are spending five to 20 hours a week reading and writing emails.

“We are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution,” he said.

Atos is turning to collaboration tools and social networking platforms instead to help workers share ideas and keep track of projects and reduce needless data exchanges and searches along the way. Thierry said its Office Communicator collaboration tool can reduce email volumes by as much as 10 to 20 per cent.

Could this be the end of email? Probably not. Email and the Internet were supposed to usher us into a paperless society. Despite declining postal numbers our mailboxes and desks are still awash in paper.

I think it will take some time for social networks and collaboration tools to supplant email. For one thing adoption rates for these new tools are still low. According to Forrester research only three to four per cent of workers use microblogging technologies and eight to 15 per cent are on social networks.

By contrast, email is used as a communication platform by over 95 per cent of workers. I think this is so because in its short lifespan, email has managed to embed itself securely in the workplace structure. It is already installed when people are hired, it is easy to use (and misuse unfortunately), it can accommodate office practices and is an accepted process and it can be used to communicate outside the office.

Of course all of these can be done with social media and collaboration tools too stories like Tame your e-mail overload with social media tools, Shorter meetings help solve e-mail overload and Expert tips to guard against e-mail overload to tell you all about it..

For many functions and purposes, email still cuts it. But if a business wants to avoid email overload today more than ever the options abound.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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