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Abandoning email

With 74,000 staff at French technology company Atos you’d expect CEO Thierry Breton to be buried in email, but he hasn’t sent an electronic mail message for three years.

Atos is implementing a zero email policy for its employees, steering them to use instant messaging and collaboration tools that reduce the need to send attachment heavy messages.

Thierry Breton claims only one in ten of the 200 messages his employees receive each day are useful and 18 percent are spam – given that over 90% of world email traffic is estimated to be unsolicited messages, Atos has a pretty good spam filter.

Email has been one of the main applications of business technology for the last 20 years, so how feasible is it really to move away from the inbox as the first and last thing you check each day?

Instant Messaging

The ability to send quick messages between computers has been around since computers were first networked in the 1950s. However, consumers and business largely ignored these clunky features until they were made popular in the late 1990s by the web based AOL and MSN Messenger services.

Most business communications platforms like Microsoft Office, Google Apps and Novell Groupwise have an Instant Messaging (IM) tool built in, which can be easily turned on.

None of this is new technology and it’s probably one of the most used business features in the Skype Internet telephone service.

The downside with IM is that it generally demands immediate attention and can distract someone from their work. IM services also leave detailed logs so don’t for a minute think your rant about a customer or staff member hasn’t been recorded.

Social media

Many social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ have their own built in instant messaging. Google’s service includes the Hangouts feature to create impromptu video conferences.

By definition Twitter is an instant messaging service offering both public and private channels. There’s also Yammer which is a corporate tool used internally for staff to communicate with one another. This can be particularly useful if a business has a lot of employees in different countries.

The downside with using social media platforms as business tools is having to rely on the best efforts of external providers when it comes to security and reliability.

Wikis

Thierry Breton makes specific mention of his company’s wiki. Simply put, a wiki is a website that can be easily updated by anyone with permission to do so.

It’s possible to lock wikis, restrict access or to undo any changes that aren’t suitable so all the information is controlled and subject to review. These can be run on your own office server or hosted on an outside cloud service.

Wikis are a fantastic tool for building a corporate memory and developing standardised procedures and policies across an organisation.

Collaborative tools

One of the big changes in the modern office is the rise of cloud office software services like Google Docs, Basecamp and – of course –Xero which allow people to work together on the same files at the same time.

In the past, office software has locked individual documents while one person used them. This aspect alone has probably been responsible for many of the emails spinning around corporate offices.

Another benefit of the new breed of collaborative tools is they make it easy to control documents as all team members are working on the one version of a file. No more version control issues!

Trusting outside providers

There are some potential risks with these services as they are cloud based. Firstly you need to ensure you have reliable Internet access and you need to satisfy yourself that the service is being provided to an adequate level of security and reliability.

That said, email itself is evolving into a cloud based commodity as many businesses move to Gmail or similar hosted solutions rather than running their own email servers.

If you’re not happy about trusting external providers you can run some of these services within your own networks but in reality the level of security and data protection offered by these services is going to be a lot safer than anything most small businesses can afford.

Discovery

One of the first things that jumps to mind from a business IT point of view is that moving to a non-email environment reduces the risk of having to provide masses of data in the event of a legal dispute.

The reality is that instant messaging, wikis and collaborative tools all leave their own “digital fingerprints” and if anything the non-email platforms may make it harder to hide evidence from a determined investigator.

Outside parties

Atos isn’t banning electronic mail with outside parties. It appears the initiative is focused on internal emails rather than those from outside the company.

This makes sense as email is still a key business communication tool and not using it to talk to suppliers and customers wouldn’t make sense. For most organisations such a ban would make it impossible to send invoices.

While email will probably continue to be a key communication channel, what we’re witnessing is an evolution of how it is used in the workplace as new tools are developed.

The last word goes to Thierry Breton who said when announcing the policy, “We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives”. He has a point.

How are you managing your business email?

Paul is a leading expert in online business and is based in Australia where he is well known as a broadcaster, speaker and author of seven books, including eBusiness, Seven Steps To Online Success. His Future of Business website looks at Internet trends like social media, cloud computing and other web technologies that are changing our industries. 

 

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6 comments

Kern Wyman
12 December 2011 #

I sit here thinking, “good for them but that wouldn’t work for me”, but I’m wrong. I’d adapt and new (or old even) products and services would take up the challenge. If we get to a point where we can’t easily justify something other than ‘that’s what happens now” then I love businesses who just go ahead and ask the question “what if?” and “why don’t we try this?”. Manage the fubar errors and you’ll be right.

Kelvin Hartnall
13 December 2011 #

I agree that email is an overused business communication tool, but I think you have overlooked one of the alternatives to email: the telephone. Or just getting up and having a chat with someone. I’ve experienced long back-and-forward email threads where it would be far more effective to just pick up the telephone, or it they are a colleague in the same building, getting up and chatting face-to-face!

Paul Wallbank
13 December 2011 #

Kelvin, I wouldn’t ignore the phone and – more importantly – meeting over a coffee or other drink.

The interesting thing with email is how it’s become the standard for business communications and we torture the beast into doing things it wasn’t really designed for.

As the different channels evolve, it will be fascinating to see how things like Twitter and Facebook adapt. We could well be writing how they are being misused before the end of the decade.

Kern, maybe it will work for us or maybe it won’t but it’s great to try things and see what works.

Quitting our email addiction
15 December 2011 #

[...] post originally appeared in the Xero Accounting Blog on December 9, [...]

notes email archiving
29 December 2011 #

I don’t think it’s yet time to abandon email, especially in marketing purposes where it still can provide excellent results.

Spanish Villa
4 January 2012 #

Title and most of the way this article is written is very misleading.

“Atos isn’t banning electronic mail with outside parties. It appears the initiative is focused on internal emails rather than those from outside the company.”

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