Every time I see an anti-email blog post or even more amusingly a company that issues a zero email policy, I’m always reminded of one of my favorite Einstein lines, “”Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.”
You have to admire CEO Thierry Breton of Atos for taking a very public stance on the issue, telling ABC, “We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives,” he goes on to say, “At [Atos] we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.”
Thanks Mr. Breton but in our universe that is infinitely stupid. Let’s see, comparing digital email to environmental pollution when your own company is selling even more digital solutions that are contributing to the problem is pure lunacy. They pay this guy €2.5 million Euros a year to come up with this stuff.
Breton later clarified that his zero email policy only applies to internal situations and not external, to which the rest of us are left scratching our heads and wondering how external emails will be handled internally.
Imagine a customer sending an email into an Atos imposed, email black hole, where the customer is seeking answers to their questions. The Atos employee then cuts and pastes the email into the Atos intranet and hours later the Atos employee presumably receives an answer from another employee. The Atos employee then cut and pastes the answer back into the original email and sends it back to the customer.
But the customer isn’t satisfied with the answers and wants clarification. So she sends another email back to Atos with documents, images and a link to a video describing her issue. Since email is banned, the Atos employee needs to cut, paste and upload the media to the Atos intranet and the process continues until resolution.
Remember Breton’s environmental pollution analogy? Ironically, this situation creates even more digital pollution and human capital waste. To further emphasize how absurd Breton’s solution is, my friend David Lavenda of harmon.ie explains, “Another problem with this strategy is introducing another tool for internal communications, while continuing to use email to communicate with the rest of the world – it’s a total non-starter.”
Breton’s policy depends on accepting the false premise that email is inherently tied to information overload and that by killing it the problem will rectify itself. In reality, it doesn’t matter which communication system you use, there will always be information overload if it isn’t managed properly.
The kindest interpretation of Breton’s policy is that he is trying to fix a problem we all have in the enterprise; which is how do we manage all of the information coming at us? The harsher view is that Atos is unable to effectively manage information and their executives are taking extreme, unproven measures to somehow control it.
The zero email policy isn’t really a policy at all. It’s a fantasy. A fantasy made particularly ridiculous by the fact that Atos is in the information technology business and should know better. The idea that a large organization is eliminating the only means of a communication technology that easily and efficiently enables any user to communicate with anyone else in the organization because of information pollution, is the operational equivalent of abolishing mobile phones because they produce noise pollution.
I’m afraid Breton is confusing his information overload symptoms with its assumed cause: email. But email is not the cause, it’s only a vehicle for information. He can find convenient scapegoats for his own information problems, and let his company’s policies escape the blame. But disconnecting email rather than making it more effective is a folly that deserves our scrutiny.
The problem with email is that it’s too successful a solution. So successful that people use it for things that it’s not intended for, but use it anyway due to its ease-of-use. As I’ve covered rather extensively, solutions like Yammer, SharePoint, Jive, Socialtext, Salesforce.com, IBM Connections, and SAP Streamworks are fantastic solutions that work with but do not intend to replace email.
The creators of these technologies recognize email for what it is, a simple yet powerful communication tool that is part of an effective social business.
P.S. I sent an email to Atos asking for an explanation. Presumably it’s buried In their intranet somewhere.
- Email: Threat Or Menace? (zdnet.com)
- Tech Firm Implements Employee ‘Zero Email’ Policy (abcnews.go.com)
- Why Email Can’t and Won’t Die (cloudave.com)
- Email is Still Not Dead, Thank You. (cloudave.com)