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Europe's Largest IT Company To Ban Internal Email 601

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the 140-characters-or-die dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos, Europe's Largest IT Company, wants a 'zero email' policy to be in place in 18 months, arguing that only 10 per cent of the 200 electronic messages his employees receive per day on average turn out to be useful, and that staff spend between 5-20 hours handling emails every week. 'The email is no longer the appropriate (communication) tool,' says Breton. 'The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face (in the future). It is time to think differently.' Instead Breton wants staff at Atos to use chat-type collaborative services inspired by social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter as surveys show that the younger generation have already all but scrapped email, with only 11 per cent of 11 to 19 year-olds using it. For his part Breton hasn't sent a work email in three years. 'If people want to talk to me, they can come and visit me, call or send me a text message. Emails cannot replace the spoken word.'"
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Europe's Largest IT Company To Ban Internal Email

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  • by Jack Malmostoso (899729) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:11AM (#38200994)

    I agree that most emails are useless (starting from those which are sent just FYI, but are still distracting and interrupting the workflow).
    However, if there is one thing I learnt by working in a megacorporation, is that _everything_ has to be in writing at some point.
    So many times a colleague or supplier will say "sure, we'll do that no problem" and then weeks go by, without anyone remembering.
    For accountability, email is still the way to go.

  • That is insane! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:12AM (#38201004)

    I work IT and my company could not survive without email. All of our orders from customers and orders to vendors go through email. We have to attach PDF and word documents too. How am I going to do that with text messaging? Email is the most useful and important IT function we have.

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:16AM (#38201034)

    "Sir, people are using our communication tool for unproductive social activities."

    "Quickly, build an internal system which is modelled after even less productive, more overtly social software."

  • Email is vital (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Crookdotter (1297179) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:17AM (#38201050)
    This whole IM thing is no different than a phone call. Some communication requires careful thought and so is best written down so you can think about a response. Email is the perfect medium for such communication. Facebook is a general post to anyone who might read it. When you need a private, considered opinion, email is the way. Or am I now too old to 'get' facebook or twitter? They both seem pointless to me. In fact, moving your employees towards them would seem to be a drain on productivity if nothing else.
  • by skovnymfe (1671822) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:18AM (#38201056)
    Discuss things in real-time using but get confirmation in writing.
  • by LizardKing (5245) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:18AM (#38201060)
    This would be the CTO of a company renowned (in the UK at least) for its involvement in a huge number of abortive public sector IT projects. I very much doubt that Breton has much input into those projects though, as Atos is a huge company. He probably does what most executives of his calibre do, and attend pointless senior managment meetings, generally in nice locations with dinner and drink laid on. That's when he isn't schmoozing for more work, a task that generally involves more dinner and drink, all paid for out of the company kitty.
  • by LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:19AM (#38201074) Homepage

    So people are receiving lots of emails, of which 90% are useless, and this guy decides the solution is to switch from emails to 'chat-type' services. So now you've got lots of chat messages, of which 90% are useless. Problem solved?

  • by icebrain (944107) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:20AM (#38201076)

    Email is still king where I work.

    -It's asynchronous, so you can still get information to people who are away from their desks, out sick, working different hours, etc. Phone calls and the internal IM system are used for informal or urgent things, but email still gets sent as a followup for anything important.

    -It's handy for reference, since you can go back and look later.

    -It's a great CYA tool, so when your boss walks up and says "why the hell did you do it that way?!" you can respond with "because you told me to" and back that up with proof. You can also use it to show that you made repeated efforts to get information and were ignored.

    -It's a hell of a lot more professional than facebook.

    Of course, I work in a compliance-driven industry that is conservative by nature (aerospace).

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:20AM (#38201078)

    I agree that most emails are useless (starting from those which are sent just FYI, but are still distracting and interrupting the workflow).

    The beauty of e-mail is that the social contract of e-mail allows you to ignore it for longer than a real-time chat. If you want to hold an IM-like conversation in e-mail, most systems are fast enough to support that, but if you've got something you're in the middle of, e-mail doesn't demand instant attention the way a phonecall or chat session does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:21AM (#38201098)

    When it comes to useful communication, talking is usually one of the most inefficient and ineffective ways to get real work done. Whatever slight advantage might come from the realtime aspect of it is immediately lost several times over due to the lack of any history being retained. This makes it far more difficult to refer back to it later, to share it with others, and to search through large volumes of it.

    In most businesses, those people doing the real bulk of the work tend to prefer written communication. It's just a far more efficient way to work. In turn, those who prefer verbal communication are usually those who do the least real work. They're the ones who sit in meetings or phone calls all day "planning" or "discussing strategy" or otherwise not doing anything useful.

  • Re:That is insane! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stephencrane (771345) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:23AM (#38201116)
    Are you having trouble with the premise of internal customers, or is it just manners that you find difficult?
  • by CountBrass (590228) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:23AM (#38201120)

    So you are trying to claim email - which you can ignore until it's convenient for you to deal with - interrupts your workflow but the IM, telephone calls etc which require you to respnd immediately don't?

    You and Thierry have something in common: you're both idiots.

  • Email haters (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bitsy Boffin (110334) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:24AM (#38201138) Homepage

    I work almost entirely in email. I hate talking on phones. I hate ringing people. I hate being called.

    The phone is so intrusive, it's like the person doing the calling has no care about what the person being called is doing, they think they are the most important thing ever and you should be sitting there just waiting for their call. Telephoning somebody, to me, is like walking up and interrupting the other party when they are in a conversation with somebody else.

    Email by contrast is fundamentally polite and efficient, you send the message and when it is convenient for the other end, they reply.

    The same problems that phones have also apply to other forms of "instant" messaging.

    Most people have no trouble working over email, the few who do I generally find either have some disability (dyslexia), or are just plain demanding and really do believe that they are the most important person and can't understand why you won't spend hour upon hour on the phone listening to their inane drivel (and woe betide you should bill them for it).

  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:24AM (#38201140)

    I agree that most emails are useless (starting from those which are sent just FYI, but are still distracting and interrupting the workflow).

    If emails are "distracting and interrupting the workflow" then you are doing it wrong. The problem isn't email, it's the way people deal with it.
    Get away from the mindset that you have to immediately read and deal with every email the instant it arrives and you'll get a lot more work done.

    surveys show that the younger generation have already all but scrapped email, with only 11 per cent of 11 to 19 year-olds using it.

    There's a good idea. Let's run our business like a bunch of 11 year-olds. Sorry, but the only people who have no use for email are people who have no job and nothing worthwhile to say or do (i.e., your typical 11-19 year old)

    For his part Breton hasn't sent a work email in three years. 'If people want to talk to me, they can come and visit me, call or send me a text message."

    Right. Nothing wrong with a crowd of people hanging around outside his office waiting to speak with him directly, rather than just send an email that he can read when he wants. And at the same time there's a few dozen people trying to call him on the phone. Sounds like a wonderful idea. I'm sure this will work out great.

  • by gaspyy (514539) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:27AM (#38201156)

    The reasons I prefer email for business are:
    - it forces people to organize ideas somewhat instead of babbling around.
    - it leaves a trail. There's no argument that someone requested X instead of Y for product Z.
    - it can be forwarded, shared and printed.

    I have clients that insist on using Skype. They spend 30-40 minutes discussing stuff that could be summarized in an one-paragraph email. During all the talk I have to keep notes, then organize the items discussed and make a doc that I send back to the client asking if they're sure this is what they wanted and then share it with my team. Overall I don't save time.

    I can't speak for anybody else, but for ME email is still the preferred business communication tool.

  • by mschaffer (97223) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:27AM (#38201158)

    This is so sad. It's a symptom of a much greater problem: We are reaping the latest crop that was sown by modern education.
    The little Johnys and Janes are barely literate. Composing even the simplest prose (to answer an email or any other written communication) just takes too long for the average person entering the workforce today.

  • Re:That is insane! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CoolCash (528004) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:27AM (#38201160) Homepage
    Your company could implement a centralized application to store and manage these documents, basecamp, sharepoint, etc. If you just send them via email, the customer/vendor doesn't have a easy central location to search and retrieve information. What if someone leaves one of the companies? Then you have to resend the emails, or their IT dept needs to consolidate email accounts and access. This way, the new employee gets a login and automatically gets all the invoices and documents. Notifications can be automatically sent via, IM, text, snail mail, or even automated phone calls. It won't be easy to get rid of email, but its definitely possible.
  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:30AM (#38201192) Homepage

    I understand why IM / Skype are preferred, and I do the same with my coworkers, but not every communication needs to be real-time. When email and IM are both available, email becomes a "when you have a moment" queue, while IM is "Right Fucking Now (tm)". If someone sends me an email, I'll quickly scan it, maybe flag it on a to-do list, and deal with it when I'm idle or bored.

    My expected response times:

    Email: 24hrs
    IM: 10 mins
    Phone: immediate (duh)

    The best way to get me to yell at someone, is to mis-prioritize something. Email me a work order, then call 5 minutes later asking why it hasn't been done: yelling. Call me to post an event on the site that's 3 months away, which details you have yet to finalize: yelling. Text me from McBurgerWay to ask if I want anything: yelling.

    All three channels have their pros and cons, and should be used appropriately. To completely shun one or two of them, to me at least, seems incredibly foolish and even ignorant.

  • by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:31AM (#38201206)

    It's not only that. Those people think their messages are important, or they wouldn't be sending them. They now have to find some other way to get the word out. And they WILL find a way, no matter how annoying or painful it is to others.

    They should be looking to fix the problem, not the symptoms.

  • by Gonoff (88518) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:34AM (#38201226)

    Several potential suppliers have lost my business by not doing email. I work in IT and they try to get me to use a fax???

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:36AM (#38201236)

    Ah but those people who say one thing and then never do it.

    Describes almost anyone in a large corporation. No wonder they want to get rid of email.

  • by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:48AM (#38201370) Homepage Journal

    When it comes to useful communication, talking is usually one of the most inefficient and ineffective ways to get real work done. Whatever slight advantage might come from the realtime aspect of it is immediately lost several times over due to the lack of any history being retained.

    Also because most real time talk is chit-chat, and not getting the exact point across. Because it's not about being exact, it's about being liked.
    I don't give a rodent's excretory orifice whether a vendor likes me or not. I care about the quotes he sends being well documented, and what promises he makes in writing. No, I will not call him even if he asks for the tenth time. I will send him an e-mail, and expect the same back.

  • 10 per cent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:50AM (#38201388)

    staff spend between 5-20 hours handling emails every week.

    Man, so how many hours will they spend if they are on Facebook and Twitter trying to accomplish the same thing?

    only 10 per cent of the 200 electronic messages his employees receive per day on average turn out to be useful,

    10 per cent is an awesomely high signal to noise ratio in Facebook and Twitter.

  • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:53AM (#38201412)

    -It's asynchronous, so you can still get information to people who are away from their desks, out sick, working different hours, etc.

    For those of us who manage other people and whose productivity is directly proportional to the amount of uninterrupted concentration we are afforded for a particular task (which is usually to produce a document), email is a necessity. It drives me up the wall when someone (usually an older secretary) calls my office phone with some non-urgent question that could easily have been put in email form; if you are going to interrupt me, at least have the decency to come to my office in person. In fact, we had a meeting the other day to discuss whether or not office phones were necessary anymore.

    I would add to the list that email can follow you when you travel. I can easily sit on a plane/train (in a "Silence" car) and answer emails offline on my laptop or discreetly fire off a reply from my phone when I'm sitting in a boring seminar. There is simply no way that chat/MMS/Skype/whatever will work in those situations. And as others have mentioned, complex thoughts/arguments are often better summarized in an email because you can gather your thoughts, proof-read your email, and then send a carbon-copy of that carefully worded text to all parties involved.

  • by sycodon (149926) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:03AM (#38201490)

    Then there is the not so obvious advantages to written communication:

    1. Most people will proof what they just write. If they are any good at all, they will end up revising it for greater clarity and accuracy.
    2. Most people will copy their managers, colleagues, an d/or subordinates when the information is necessary for the team to complete the job.
    3. The information is readily available in the future for reference or revision.
    4. As the AC mentioned, you can use it to later see what you did right and what you did wrong.

    Of course there is the whole CYA aspect too.

  • by dreemernj (859414) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:04AM (#38201508) Homepage Journal
    This is why so many legal organizations have strict e-mail policies. The law firms I've worked with have typically had rules stating emails cannot be saved for more than 18 days.
  • I love email (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vawwyakr (1992390) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:04AM (#38201514)
    I guess maybe I'm old now? But I love the asymmetric nature of the communication, sometime I don't want to talk to you RIGHT NOW but I do need to start or get back to a conversation about something. I also love the ability to store and catalog email threads its useful sometime months later to go back and say on June 12th you me and Bob all agreed to create this page with these features, and here is you saying you liked the idea.
  • by kent_eh (543303) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:05AM (#38201522)
    Exactly. Multi-hour, daily conference calls about why a project is behind schedule are the leading cause for projects to be behind schedule.
    It's the asynchronous nature of e-mail that improves my productivity.
    Add in the CYA factor of being able to save, and forward old e-mails, and I can't see why anyone would want to move away from e-mail.

    Unless they don't want to be held accountable for what they said months ago, or if they prefer to spend all their time in conference calls about work, as opposed to actually doing work...
  • by drdaz (994457) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:10AM (#38201600)

    The problem is the culture. The fact that there is a poor signal to noise ratio in employee communications is unlikely to be remedied by simply swapping medium... The garbage will just come through the new channel. The situation will only improve if people begin thinking about what is necessary to communicate, rather than spamming every thought that comes into their mind.

    Of course, banning *all* forms of electronic, textual communication might help this... but it doesn't seem (from the summary at least) that this is what's being suggested.

  • by PrimalChrome (186162) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:11AM (#38201612)

    How many 'legal organizations' do you work with, exactly? We have about 600 clients, many in the legal/financial markets. Most have retention policies requiring years of emails to be kept. I believe law requires some financial institutions to archive email for a number of years as well.

    "Why do they do this crazy thing?" asks the five minute attention span twitter generation of teens and twixties that have never held a full time job with any more responsibility than making sure that a coffee had extra cream. They do this to cover their asses. One email, a SINGLE email, can make the difference between a multi million dollar lawsuit or a lost account that pays your salary.

  • I bet Breton's PA has sent emails on his behalf over teh past 3 years - I know my own director rarely clicks the send button himself.
  • by Bert64 (520050) <bert@s[ ]hdot.fi ... m ['las' in gap]> on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:39AM (#38201892) Homepage

    Both of which can be trivially faked, but then lots of legal matters hinge on something as ridiculously arbitrary as a signature - a random mark on a piece of paper which is even easier to fake.

  • by grimmjeeper (2301232) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:42AM (#38201928)

    So, I've gone to great lengths to craft mail filters to sort my incoming deluge of company email. I know the offenders who send me volumes of useless junk. I've got filters for all of the distribution mail that comes out of every level of the company. I know that once caught by the filters and diverted to one of many folders, I can spend little to no time actually reading the contents of the folder because there's little to nothing that's actually useful in those emails so going through the list once a day (or less) is a short task. The few internal emails that end up actually landing in my inbox tend to be useful and contain information that I actually need to process. But since there are so few of them I can devote time to processing them.

    This is a great system. I end up getting very few interruptions during my day. I can concentrate on my work and get into the zone while I'm digging through my software and I can get something done.

    But this guy wants to take away email and replace it with instant messaging and other intrusive communications services that demand my attention whenever some boffin decides to tell the world that he's updated some tool that I never use? Great. Now I have to deal with that crap that I've carefully figured out how to ignore. Instead of having a system that lets me address communication when I have time to do so, I have to now use a system that interrupts me whenever anything is being sent to me, whether the message is important or not. Instead of being able to focus on getting work done, I have to deal with a constant stream of interruptions. Good luck trying to focus on anything when your messenger is constantly pecking at you for attention on an irregular basis.

    I suppose it's possible to configure messengers to filter and limit interruptions. But then if you filter the incoming messages so you can go back and read them when you have the time, you may as well just use email since that's better at that style of communication.

    The switch to alternate forms of communication doesn't solve the underlying problem that far too many people spam out far too much useless information. My solution to the information overload problem in email is to first get rid of distribution lists and limit the number of recipients for a single email to a very small number. Say 20 people or less. If you need to send information to more people than that, come up with an internal web site where you can post distribution information that people can go read when they feel like reading it. Despite assertions to the contrary, there is almost no need to spam large groups with distribution email.

    If you do that, you'll find that information overload will be significantly reduced overnight. Those organizational announcements and IT bulletins that nobody reads won't be filling up everyone's inboxes. The release announcements from the tools group that no one really cares about won't clutter up your inbox. The self important idiot who wants to tell the world about his 3rd quarter financials won't be able to bother people who don't care. The idiot who feels the need to post that he published something on the website won't be able to bother you. End distribution lists and you kill a large contributor to information overload.

  • by denpun (1607487) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:47AM (#38202016)

    Email is still highly useful - the problem these people have is no discipline in how to handle email - first, turn off all notifications. Second, only check a couple of times a day. Email is not instant, so don't treat it like it is. Do the same for IM. This removes the disruption of your daily tasks. If it's really important, someone will call....

    Ha....your right.....unfortunately people want email to be instant.......

    In most mid sized companies 25-100......email is used a lot for collaborating with each other....sending files....sending requests.....updates...etc.
    They send you an email.....call you 5 mins later...did you receive my email? Its urgent.......can you please do it now?
    Of course, if its someone important in the company....you can't say...oh its not time to check my email yet...so I will get to it......plus it might actually be urgent.....

    So yes..people now expect email to be instant.....like a task listing....new tasks come in......you check.....except...you can do a lot of other non-useful things with email.

    Yes.....all the above this is because of poor planning probably....no scheduling....task management....proper systems...policies...etc.....but the problem can be solved by good Business Flow/Task Flow systems. But cost is prohibitively high for smaller companies to have good business flow control systems that can replace email.

    Also....many times...such systems are very complex and harder to use as well......so the benefit of not using email might be lost.....

    Email can be replaced if
    1) The whole business has an excellent business process flow control system that encompasses all processes where by all task are entered, tracked and traced.
    2) Such system is scalable
    3) Such system is easy to use

    If we have the above...email use can be limited...and possibly eliminated......with use of other technologies....
    Client communications would then just be a task in the process chain.....

    Now....who can make such systems for businesses.....easy..simple...cheap...bug free.....no downtime.....

    Utopia.

  • by leonardluen (211265) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:13AM (#38202326)

    If it's really important, someone will call....

    damn i hate that! why the heck are you calling me? send me an email or IM! that is self documenting, and i can review it as often as i want to make sure i understood what you wrote, and can file it away in my TODO list so i don't forget.. With a call as soon as you hang up i can't go back and replay it. If someone calls me and asks me to do something the first thing i always ask is for them to send me an email or IM with the request.

    Also with phone they expect an immediate response, and so i have to interrupt what i am working on to respond to them. and all too often if they leave a voicemail it is just "please call me back" with no detail of what they had wanted and so now i have more wasted time calling them back and half the time they aren't there so i have to leave a voicemail "i called you back, but you weren't there, what was it you wanted?". this would all have been solved by a simple email to begin with!

  • Right. Nothing wrong with a crowd of people hanging around outside his office waiting to speak with him directly, rather than just send an email that he can read when he wants. And at the same time there's a few dozen people trying to call him on the phone. Sounds like a wonderful idea. I'm sure this will work out great.

    Spot on, though I wonder if the problem is a little more subtle. Breton is the CEO, so if he wants to have an instant messaging chat, telephone conversation, or video conference with anyone in the company, then of course that person is going to be available and giving whatever the CEO wants to talk about a top priority. Of course it's faster and more effective for him than email, because when the CEO calls, the employees drop everything else.

    For everyone else in the company, calls will get screened to voicemail, IM clients will display "AFK", and coworkers whose desks are more than twenty feet apart will spend days trying to find mutually agreeable times in which to schedule their video chats. People who didn't know how to manage their email before won't be any more effective at managing their work or their time after; they'll just spend all day on the phone instead.

  • by Forbman (794277) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @12:12PM (#38203824)

    Actually, it doesn't matter if both parties don't have similar retention policies. My company is going through a goofy process to regenerate and supply some old data to a major bank that we did some back-office processing for. People in my company involved in things 5 years ago SWEAR up and down that they had the OK by the bank in an email to stop the collection of certain data that we'd been doing for the bank that was bought by this major bank way back then, but NO ONE in my company could find the email on our side. No way is the bank going to find it on their side, even if they still had the email (this was like 5+ years ago, so it's probably out of their email & backup retention window for that kind of data).

    So... lots of silly work on our side to reprocess and regenerate this data, but I suppose it's cheaper than dealing with a lawsuit and probably having to do it anyways.

    An old saying from when I worked at Abbott Laboratories..."if it isn't documented, it didn't happen". Yes, this is a sword that can cut both ways, but usually it inflicts great harm on the wielder of the sword.

    And, the paper trail that is email, being stored on centralized servers, and at least in a bigger company, having some degree of isolation of manipulation by end users (OK, they deleted the email from their inbox, but it was sent to them while they were at home during the night, and it was saved on the mail server's backups from that night...), means it's going to stand up in court far more than an IM log stored on a user's computer.

    But, it's his company to run, I suppose. Good luck to him.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @03:35PM (#38206514)

    Skype is not only for calls, I mainly use it for text chats (which can be logged).

    Texting/IM is just real-time email. The downside being that I must respond on your timetable, not mine, and my time is more valuable than yours - and before you respond to that last bit... Yes it is. :-)

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984

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