The beginning of the end for email?

Email overload
email overload

What’s that? Have we had too much sherry over the festive break? Can we really imagine life without email, a medium that has become so familiar to us all over the last decade or so.

Well, firstly let me be clear that I’m not referring to all email but specifically internal corporate email and the increasingly popular view that an employee’s productivity and efficiency is severely curtailed by the volume of internal email they receive.

At the end of last year there was a lot of interest in an interview with the IT giant Atos’s chief executive Thierry Breton, where he reiterated a strategic aim of the organisation to reduce internal email to zero by 2014. It sparked quite a debate but is it so surprising?

Atos found that amongst their 80,000 employees each received on average over 100 emails per day, of which only 15% were useful. 15-20 hours of the working week were spent trawling through these emails. I’m sure this must ring true with many of you; you might not spend half of your week reading internal mail but I bet you feel you spend a significant part of your week going through mails you ultimately deem irrelevant. We’re too often in fear of our Inbox, it can fill us with a sense of dread (regardless of how good we are at setting up rules within our email client). Being out of the office and away from a ‘device’ fills us with the horror of coming back to more hours of trawling though the Inbox.

There’s got to be a better way. To give employees back those wasted hours, for their own sakes but also to be more productive for the benefit of the company as a whole. Email is a victim of its own success – it’s so easy to send one and copy multiple people in on those mails. It makes us lazy too – send an email and that’s job done. It’s not! Communicating with your colleagues is rarely best done by sending them an email. Timezones sometimes dictate so perhaps, but how often are we also guilty of sending emails to colleagues who work on the bank of desks just next to you?

What’s interesting for us at Salterbaxter is what do you replace the email noise with? Of course talking to one another is to be encouraged wherever possible :-) but more appropriate tools and technology are also helping. Instant messaging or internal social networking is a valuable medium for that quick question or query that gets lost in the Inbox. We’re seeing a big rise for example in corporations experimenting with software such as Chatter and Yammer that promote more focused communication and foster a truer sense of co-working.  Watch this space for a forthcoming interview with one of our clients who has been trialling Chatter over the past few months.

This is another element of what we’ve talked about here before, namely Social Business. Organisations who facilitate collaboration between employees through means other than email, can improve the working lives of their employees and simultaneously increase their engagement.

I can remember when Twitter first emerged that some commentators were saying it could trigger the death of email. It seemed too far-fetched then but now looks less so. For the so-called ‘Generation Z’ for example social networking is not an alternative to email it is simply how these people communicate online. If you’ve got children around the age of 12 or over , I’d be surprised if/how often they use email, certainly rarely if ever to communicate with their friends (or their work colleagues equivalent).

As this generation (hopefully) start to enter the workforce they aren’t going to accept or even comprehend that they need to communicate with their colleagues via email.

So Atos wont be the last company to try and rid themselves of wasteful email, it’s a challenge that will face most larger organisations in the coming years. It won’t disappear overnight of course but how about making your 2012 resolution to start thinking about and trialling forms of communication, other than email. We can help you look at other options; to be more productive; to improve employees’ working lives; for your business to become a Social Business.


Ian Howlett

Ian Howlett

Head of Digital
This entry was posted in Digital, Employee engagement, Social business. Bookmark the permalink.

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