You heard right.
Eighteen months from now Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos—one of the largest information technology companies in the world, plans to have eliminated email as a communication and collaboration medium within his company. “If people want to talk to me, call or send me a text message,” said Breton. “Emails cannot replace the spoken word.”
According to an article written by Peter Allen in the Daily Mail, Atos’ nearly 80,000 employees in 42 countries will have stopped using email eighteen months from now and will have replaced it with social media tools, the telephone and face-to-face conversations. Should you read this and assume that Breton is a 30-something young maverick trying to make a statement, you’d be wrong. The 56-year old chief executive is the former French finance minister who believes that only 20 out of every 200 emails received by his staff every day turn out to be important.
“[E]mail is no longer the appropriate tool,” said Breton. “It is time to think differently.”
Breton cites a number of examples of how email wastes time including:
- The “deluge” of information that plagues organizations
- The need to review “useless” emails and the time it takes to get focused again on important tasks
- The “pile” of email that employees end up sorting through after hours and the associated drain on employees’ personal time
Email is such an integrated and ubiquitous part of how most organizations get work done that I’m not sure completely eliminating it from our cadre of communication tools is practical, but I am very interested in Breton’s implication that social media-like instant messaging has the same value as “the spoken word.”
I’m a big fan of anything that will help teams collaborate more naturally—and social media tools have demonstrated they can do that. What’s more, I don’t think it’s only younger members of the workforce who are seeing the benefit of a social media approach (as the 56-year old Breton demonstrates).
Writing for The Telegraph, Henry Samuel writes, “The younger generation have already all but scrapped the email, with only 11 percent of 11 to 19 year-olds using it, according to silicon.fr, and online social networking is now more popular than email and search.”
Although I don’t want to be a focus group of one, I find myself using (and often preferring) a text message or other social-media interaction to email for some communication. I have a number of friends and colleagues around the world with whom a text or Facebook message is our preferred way to interact.
“Companies must prepare for the new wave of usage and behavior,” said Breton. I agree.
Thirty years ago, I would never have imagined how personal computers, smart phones and the Internet would have impacted my life. I must admit, I didn’t take email seriously when I first started using it . Now, I probably spend more time using my smart phone for email or to text than as a telephone—I don’t think I’m alone.
I agree with Mr. Breton, email is not the most efficient way for teams to collaborate. Everyone has experienced the email thread that gets lost or buried, the person that needed to be included on the thread that wasn’t or the critical email that was accidentally deleted. The social media metaphor demonstrates a lot of promise as a vehicle for collaboration (provided we can keep the conversation focused on work—projects, issues and tasks). However, saying that, the lines between an individual’s work life and personal life are becoming blurred.
Judging from her emails, I have a colleague who gets a lot of work done at 1:00 am, hours after I have climbed into bed and called it a day. If she checks her Facebook a couple of times during the day is that such a terrible thing? Although I might be asleep at 1:00 am, for me, work life and personal life have become “life.” I continue to check email, accomplish tasks and otherwise “work” when I have time off, while on vacation or even on the weekends if I need to. So maybe the need to obsessively worry about limiting social media access in the workplace doesn’t make much sense after all (but that’s a topic for discussion on another day).
The big question becomes, what can we do to make sure that work colleagues are part of an employees’ network and their work is part of why they are interacting.
I will be watching for an update eighteen months from now to see if Breton is successful. In the mean time, I don’t think we can ignore the power of a social media-like approach to team collaboration. Something Twitter-like or Facebook-like that makes projects, tasks and issues part of the discussion just makes sense to me.
Ty Kiisel, Contributor