Should we ban email?

Every now and then, a CEO makes some waves by planning to ban email from his company. And it’s not only in young tech start-ups. This time it’s Mr Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos, a global IT consulting outfit of over 80.000 employees. In 18 months, email will be phased out in the company, or at least, that is Mr Bretons plan.

A full mailbox

Obviously, this is very exciting news, and a bold move. Especially if you either love or hate social media. And I think he has a point. Many people know the annoyances of a full inbox waiting after vacations, the weekend or a business trip. Many people, especially those with smart phones, go through their emails in other places than the workplace, and at other times than ‘normal’ working hours. Almost everybody knows the long email threads, sent to different people, replying to all, adding more and more recipients, and including the previous conversation. Oh, and then there is that one person in the company who is not in the loop, but should have been. Or answers to earlier messages in the thread, that have already been resolved. Or full mailboxes due to large presentations or other documents in multiple versions being mailed around.

What many people don’t realize is that all this not only clogs mailboxes, but also costs enormous amounts of money in storage space and network bandwidth infrastructure. On top of that, with social networking tools entering the company (both public and private), there are alternatives which are better suited to perform the tasks at hand. So, banning email is certainly a great idea, isn’t it?

Well, not completely. With all social media technologies available, also to companies, we sure do have alternatives. Email was basically the first of these to enter the workplace, and has become one of those multifunction tools. Simply because there was no better tool available at the time. And now there are. It is wise to rethink the use of email as a MacGyver tool. Some email threads are mere conversations. There are better platforms for that available nowadays: Skype, Yammer, mobile phones, water cooler meetings. Collaboration on documents is another thing that email is abused for. Sending around a version of a document in progress, then sending around a newer version with adjustments, sometimes two at the same time from different collaborators, which makes it confusing to untangle the best latest version. We’ve all been there, I guess. And yes, there are better tools available for that as well. Ever heard of Google Docs?

On the other hand, sometimes email simply works well. Delivering a final version of a document to a client. Reminding people about a new policy or product, sending around a newsletter (push simply still works better for that than pull). And there are probably many more examples you can come up with when you have a good look at your company’s email traffic.

The thing is, because email was the first to enter companies, it was used for many different tasks. And people got used to that. If you really want to make it more efficient, or make communications more efficient, have a good look at what types of communication are going on in your company via email, and then see if there is a better tool available to facilitate that. In that way, you can lessen the email burden, make the workforce more efficient and probably save some costs in the long term.

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