Can You Imagine Life at Work without Email?

Is email obsolete? Atos, Europe’s largest IT firm, thinks so. The company last week announced that it was banning internal email, as CEO Thierry Breton thinks that 90 percent of messages sent between employees are a waste of time.

Instead, Breton wants his 74,000 staff members to talk to one another in person or on the phone, and switch to "in real time" messaging tools like Facebook. According to Steven Rosenbaum in FastCompany.com, it looks as if other companies will soon follow suit. By 2014, a technology research group has predicted, social networking will replace email as the main method of communication for 20 percent of businesses.

Good riddance, said William Powers in The New York Times. Email was supposed to boost productivity, but it has done the opposite. When a worker sends an office-wide message about a broken vending machine, everyone stops work to read a pointless bit of trivia. Studies show that such in-box–clogging interruptions can cost a 1,000-employee company up to $10 million a year.

Dumping email won’t fix those problems, said Peter Bright in ArsTechnica.com. Whenever office workers are interrupted—whether by an email, a phone call, or simply a co-worker stopping by their desk for a chat—it typically takes them 15 minutes to regain their focus and get back to work, studies have shown. So while 90 percent of Atos’s internal email might be worthless, ditching it entirely “doesn’t mean that employees will end their unproductive communication.” In fact, life without email could be far worse, said Richi Jennings in Computerworld.com. By nixing a “successful and efficient” communication tool, Breton will force employees to hold more time-consuming phone conferences and face-to-face meetings.

But like it or not, electronic mail is slowly wheezing toward the grave, said Dominique Jackson in the London Daily Mail. “The younger generation has all but given up on it”—visits to email sites by 12- to 17-year-olds fell 18 percent in 2010—and digitally savvy teens now communicate “almost entirely via social networks and instant messenging services.” These chat-type systems “have the advantage of immediacy over the disjointed timeline” of an email exchange; messages do not sit for hours in somebody’s inbox. In fact, instant chatting can almost feel like you’re having a real F2F conversation with a co-worker. Remember what that was like?

- As seen in The Week
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