Banning e-mail in the office: Is this a good idea?

People have complained for years about having to live with e-mail, but can you live without it?

The CEO of Europe’s biggest IT services company plans to find out, announcing a plan to ban e-mail for his company’s 74,000 employees, who are located in 42 countries.

Thierry Breton, a former French finance minister and CEO of the France-based Atos, says that only 10 percent of the e-mail his employees get is worthwhile, and he wants them to stop using it within 18 months, according to the Telegraph.

Instead, he wants them to communicate face to face, by phone, or via text messaging or Facebook-style interfaces.

Few would argue with e-mail’s downsides. In 2009, 94 percent of all e-mail was spam. That percentage has dropped as fraudsters and other attackers find other vectors, but spam still makes up about 74 percent of e-mail traffic. And even if an organization uses an aggressive spam filter, people still get inundated with “corporate spam,” in the form of inconsequential interoffice e-mails.

Nicolas Moinet, information and communication professor at Poitiers University, described the problem like this: "We have now reached crazy situations where employees go to a meeting, continue to send e-mails and then ask colleagues present to send them an e-mail to know what was said during that meeting," the Telegraph reported.

But is doing away with e-mail entirely the solution? Texting and social media platforms can be faster and in many ways easier. And the upcoming generation that will be going to work in a few years already largely do without e-mail. But are there some things e-mail still does that the other formats don’t.

Breton points out that only 11 percent of 11-to-19-year-olds use e-mail, deeming social media more useful. All those 11-to-19-year-olds working in your office no doubt agree, but are there some things e-mail does that texting and internal social media platforms don’t? Can you send a PDF via text? Do you want to post it on a social media platform? Or are bicycle messengers about to come back into vogue?

Breton says most time spent on e-mail is wasted, and he’s right. But are Facebook or internal social media apps better? A platform such as Yammer, which allows internal communications in a Facebook-like format, does have some distinct advantages for intra-office communications, but, like any other form of communication, also has the potential to become too much of a water cooler.

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic lays out the advantages of doing away with e-mail, but ultimately concludes that, “Facebook messaging and Gchats can be as much of a time-suck as e-mail. It's not about the technology. It's about the users.”

And maybe it’s about the medium, too. Social media will likely replace many of the functions e-mail is used for today, and for the better. But can e-mail be killed entirely? Or will it, like postal mail, find itself downgraded but still useful?

Could your office function without e-mail? Let us know in the comments section below.

Reader Comments

Fri, Dec 23, 2011

I work on an international working group. Email is essential to our work. I can guarentee that I do not have the budget for face-to-face meetings on a regular basis. Our one teleconference this year took three weeks to setup. Some in our group have access to the other formats mentioned in this article, some do not. Everyone has email.

Wed, Dec 7, 2011

I work for local government. We communicate within the organization almost exclusively via email. While phone and face-to-face conversations do exist, email provides a trail, or thread, to the subject matter. I am more interested in the amount of time wasted via personal devices, texting, different types of media that have nothing to do with work - now THAT would be a good question...How much time a day is spent on social media that has no relationship to the work you are being paid for?

Wed, Dec 7, 2011 BrianK Honolulu

I think there's value and simplicity in an internal combination of client-server and email solutions.

It may be more costly in the short run, but sometimes having the skill sets inhouse can add value to your human resources, and both speed and flexibility when refactoring workflows.

I personally often do plain text email with attachments. I also do ZIPd web docs - multiple files, HTML, CSS, JPG, and/or PDF.

My only regular stops in the world of Web 2.0 are somewhat fractured, flickr.com and schneier.com.

Seems there's too much to do, better than Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn.

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 Massachusetts

Be careful eliminating email for engineering or technical groups. Many drawings, reports, reference documents are sent using email, some as complete documents, for reivew comments. Photos show work proposed or completed, so site visits are not required. And - emails can avoid "phone tag" in many cases. Some places do use text only email format, and it works (but this restricts attachments). Just eliminating email in entirety does not address sending, receiving, and expediting above type documents.

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 Paul Washington DC

I use e-mail constantly because I deal with people all over the US. I generally cannot use the phone because their jobs take them away from the desk. e-mail works form me. Texting and IM do not. I put all my spam into Junk Mail and delete it all at once. It take about 5 minutes a day. E-mail properly saved gives me my audit trail which is extremely usedful as a reminder.

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