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Does Banning Email Prevent Overload?

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Email productivity seems like a contradiction in terms. That’s why one company made headlines by claiming they have outlawed this technology in the workplace.

You can read the story in many places, including this piece in the Daily Mail:

One of the largest information technology companies in the world is to ban e-mails – because it says 90 per cent of them are a waste of time.

It believes that too many of them waste hours dealing with irrelevant e-mails, so wants them phased out within 18 months.

Claiming that only 20 out of every 200 emails received by his staff every day turn out to be important, Mr. Breton (CEO of the company) said: ‘The e-mail is no longer the appropriate tool. It is time to think differently.

‘The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face,’ said Mr. Breton.

He said the main problem was people switching to a ‘useless’ email while they were carrying out a far more important task.

Allowing e-mails to stack up also means that staff have huge e-mail workloads to pile through when they get home.

The business is called Atos, and they are right about one thing when it comes to email productivity: most messages are worthless. While we don’t have many stats to back up Breton’s 20 out of 200 claim, a quick glance through any inbox will probably show that his figure doesn’t seem to be all that far off.

email productivity and management

© Flickr user lizzardo

There’s plenty of banter on this subject. A series of columns published by the New York Times can be summarized as follows:

  • “Atos’s decision to ban e-mails between employees is likely to prove futile, particularly since the online alternatives can be equally distracting. The real challenge is to figure out how to make people think twice before hitting Send.” – Nick Carr
  • “E-mail itself is not the problem. It’s how we use it. One solution: get rid of the Reply to All command.” – Peggy Duncan
  • “E-mail isn’t the only problem. Any tools, including the ones Atos will now use internally, can fail us if used thoughtlessly. ” – William Powers

If we can’t kill the monster, is there a way to improve email productivity? The easiest solution is just not to answer it.

Seriously. Consider changing your email usage and management policy as one in which you respond the next business day.  Suddenly, you won’t be able to dash off a quick note and expect a quick reply. Within a few hours, people will assume you are in a marathon meeting. Within a few weeks, email will start to become correspondence again.

You may think this is a drastic undertaking and that you certainly have too many important emails coming in to cut them off totally. But Atmos is a company of 80,000 people across 42 countries. If they’re able to make this leap, then there’s a pretty good chance you could find a way as well.

Honestly, we don’t want to say that email doesn’t have a place in the business world. Totally eliminating it may be a bit much. But there’s no denying that its effectiveness as a productivity tool has been severely hindered by the way that people are so dependent on it, and use it for all communication, even on topics that would be better handled in other ways.

Ultimately, if we aim to improve email productivity then we truly seek to focus on meaningful communication. Break the cycle by making this technology less frantic. Collaborate and produce on a time frame that actually makes sense. And if you’re having trouble implementing this in your workplace, consider reaching out to our business productivity consultants at AccelaWork!

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