It began as simple time saver. No more stamps, no more phone calls when a quick email would suffice. It changed the game in office communications. But for all the ease ... writing, reading, answering and culling emails can take up to five hours a week of valuable office time and all that information - too much information is estimated to cost U.S. corporations a trillion dollars a year. Our project Game Changer follows a communications technology company ready to delete email.
Global technology giant Atos, which plans to stop using email internally by 2014, says it is already seeing the benefits of the initiative.
Atos, a French firm with 80,000 employees around the world, first announced the plan — described by some critics as "stupid" and by others as "ingenious" — in February.
The company said an internal review found that on average, employees spend 15 to 20 hours a week on email, and only 15 per cent of the emails are actually useful.
It also found that younger workers barely used email, relying more on social media, said Holger Kormann, general manager of Atos Canada, which has 250 employees.
The company is currently in the early stages of creating awareness of the initiative and introducing replacement tools such as instant messaging, video conferencing, Facebook, and collaboration software such as Live Meeting, Kormann told CBC's The Current.
"We believe the productivity and the innovation and the buy-in for the employees will significantly go up over the next couple years," he said.
Already, he said, instant messaging has proven to be more effective for time-sensitive communications, and Kormann has reduced his own email load by 20 per cent.
Over time, the initiative will help balance people's personal and professional time, he said, as people are no longer contacted while they are away from the office.
Luis Suarez, a social computing expert who works for IBM in the Canary Islands, stopped using email in 2008. At that time, some people were shocked, he said.
"There were a couple of people even hinting that I would be fired," he recalled.
Others thought it was a crazy move, but it could work. He says it has — now, he maintains contact with colleagues and clients through the internal IBM Connections business social software system and through two external social networks, including Google Plus.
William Powers, author of Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, said in Atos's case, it sounds like phasing out email has already allowed the company to realize amazing efficiencies and gains.
"I think this is something every organization should be thinking about," he added.
Powers said Atos isn't the first company to consider phasing out email.
"Other companies including Intel the chip-maker have been doing experiments of this kind for a decade or more," he said. "In fact, the tech companies have always been leading the way in rethinking the very tools that they make."
Kormann said technology companies are better equipped than other firms to pilot and test an environment without email because alternative tools have long been part of their organization.
Jonathan Spira, author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous to Your Organization, has spent years studying what communications tools work better when and found that the answer changes as the tools evolve. He agrees that companies and their workers will benefit from thinking about how email can adversely impact work and personal lives and being more thoughtful about its use. For example, he recommends copying as few people as possible on emails, to avoid the lost productivity that comes from interrupting them in the middle of a task.
However, Spira said he doesn't think we can be rid of email completely in the next couple of years because the alternatives can't always replace it: "The one thing that doesn't work is to completely turn off email, even for a day."