I am happy to see that French tech company Atos is banning the use of e-mail between employees. Where’s my popcorn? I can’t wait to sit back and watch this one to see what happens. Will the evil spammers and time wasters finally get driven away from the Gotham City that is the modern corporate e-mail inbox? Or will the superhero (former French finance minister and Atos CEO Thierry Breton) find that even superhuman efforts aren’t enough to win this hero-driven crusade? It will probably be more like a good French movie: interesting, exploring a universal theme, and helps us learn a bit about ourselves.
If it works out well, then great – we all learned something. If it doesn’t (which is more likely in my view), then I’ll be glad it wasn’t my company or a client that I advise. Because I would not advise this.
Each tool has its plusses and minuses, leaving one playing whack-a-mole when trying to beat down one technology only to see an increase in the negatives of the alternative. Whack the e-mail mole because 90% of it is junk, and you may find new garbage popping up in your IM channels or social wall postings.
E-mail also happens to occupy a certain spot on the attention management continuum - the degree to which that channel grabs the recipient’s attention. It’s really the only tool that occupies that exact spot, so you will necessarily find messages shifting to be more noticeable (IM’s that pop up on the screen rather than waiting patiently in your inbox) or less noticeable (messages posted to a discussion group that a key recipient might not think to check) than desired.
In any case, it’s easy to shoot holes in the concept. Since this was announced at the end of November, a gaggle of journalists, bloggers, and analysts have acknowledged the sentiment while bashing the implementation. To me, it’s a grand experiment that tests theories of modern communication and will be fascinating to watch. My biggest disappointment won’t come from failure or success – it will be if they lose momentum on the way to their 18 month zero-e-mail goal and creep back to normal e-mail usage. Then we’ll never know what a 74,000 employee company without e-mail looks like in the modern age.
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