Last week, Atos, a French IT company, announced a ban on internal e-mail. Atos’ management justified the action as a way to stop wasteful messaging. It says that staffers get an average of 200 e-mail messages per day (the average, according to our calculations, 93), and that most are not “critical.”
Atos wants to move conversations that would take place in e-mail to tools such as Microsoft Office Communicator instant messaging and face-to-face discussions. Aside from the fact that managers there should read my “What Works Better When?” treatise, I have to wonder how it was determined that “most” of the e-mail exchanges were not necessary.
It’s quite true that e-mail can be wasteful, and furthermore I’m willing to bet that Atos didn’t even begin to calculate the cost of “unnecessary” interruptions, which would magnify the presumed cost of wasteful e-mail exchanges five fold in many cases.
What does trouble me to some extent is the amount of press that Atos’ action has gotten. While Atos’ management may have indeed given some though to the problem, other managers may simply read the headlines (“Huge Company Bans Internal E-mail” was a popular one) and decide to pull the plug.
Does anyone remember No E-mail Wednesdays? They were immediately followed by E-mail Tsunami Thursdays.
E-mail has become the prime means of moving information both within an enterprise and beyond its borders. Is it the ideal means? No, of course not. But to paraphrase Sir Winston, e-mail is the worst form of messaging except for all the others that have been tried.
Instant messaging and social networks all have their place, but there are still many types of messages, ranging from out-of-office communications to thoughts that require a longer explanation, where e-mail is still the best medium.
Now, if we could all exercise a bit of control when it comes to the number of recipients…
Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.