Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos and a former French finance minister, has announced a ban on staff email for 2012, arguing that only 10 per cent of the 200 electronic messages his employees receive per day on average turn out to be useful. Instead he wants them to use an instant messaging and a Facebook-style interface.
In an interview on the BBC, Breton said that Atos staffers spend between 5-20 hours handling emails, and that the company’s younger employees didn’t use email at all unless forced to do so. The BBC report said that it was that strong preference among young “digital natives” that convinced Breton that there were faster, easier ways to manage internal communication.
Will IM and SMS replace email?
Jon Stokes, writing about the Atos decision in a guest blog post on the Business2Community blog wrote, “Let’s be clear – email is not going away any time soon and Atos would still use it for external communication. However, transforming the internal communication model in this way this way is a definite move towards becoming a social business.”
While some other companies are following the Artos model, most are not. The reasons are complex, but they usually boil down to the fact that most organizations don’t have the tools or expertise to create a secure, useful internal collaboration platform. Most of the available tools are either expensive (SharePoint, Salesforce Chatter, Confluence) are hard to manage and expensive to set up and customize or notoriously insecure and cumbersome (Google Docs, Huddle).
The truth is that email is familiar to most in the workforce – especially to those over 25 – and familiarity and ease of use beats cool hands down when it comes to most offices. Personally, I’ve used SharePoint, Chatter, Tibrr, and Basecamp’s Campfire. And none of them are as fast and easy to use as the “attach file” paperclip on my Outlook email.
As long as I continue to use email as a primary marketing tool for external audiences, I’m going to be one of the old fogies that’s hard to migrate off email for internal use, too. I know that it’s likely that I’ll see a decline in my own use of email for day-to-day use before my career ends.
But I’m hoping it won’t be soon. Since many of my employer’s customers are in heavily regulated industries, where archiving business communications in case of regulatory or eDiscovery requests is important, I doubt I’ll have to worry about it anytime soon.
SharePoint meets compliance standards, but many of the others are small business platforms that would be costly and expensive to build into a company-wide eDiscovery model, I think.
There’s also the issue of the informality of text and instant message chatter. While it’s likely one of the reasons my younger co-workers prefer it, it’s not exactly the kind of record that I want “out there” for regulators and litigators to peruse when they ask for my business communications.
Here’s a sampling of a messages that flashed across the chat system at a company I used to work for – and make no mistake “used to work for” is the operative phrase here.
· ‘sup? I am so tired today. Do we have to go to the 10 a.m. meeting?
· R U ready for the meeting? (name)’s latest “great idea”. As if.
· How come we have to do that *h** wot a waste
· Nobody cares…but still he’s talking
· she kidding? red bra w/white blouse?
These messages came from a variety of (fairly) senior managers at a Fortune 100 company who wouldn’t have put any of those sentences into an email because every one of them is quite clear that email is: (a) discoverable in court (b) formal business correspondence (c) archived and reviewed periodically by legal, compliance, HR and management for policy adherence and (d) stored forever. So they know that email is no place for casual conversation.
But they don’t seem to have the same inhibitions about SMS or chat. For one thing, people assume that what they say on their own phones – and 86% of American workers pay their own cell phone bills, even if they use the phone almost exclusively for business – is their own business. Most would be shocked to learn that regulators and litigators can (and often do) subpoena mobile phone text and voice mail records, or that regulations that pertain to their company’s marketing and communications apply to them as well.
As for chat, it’s easy to forget that chat isn’t really an informal water-cooler conversation. “Chat” on a business collaboration platform – whether it’s Gmail or SharePoint or something else – is “business dialogue”. And that makes it anything but informal or ephemeral.
I’ll be watching the Artos experiment in 2012 with interest. I hope that the company will report its results as publicly as it announced the change. I’m sure that Europe’s second largest IT firm has thought the process of banning internal email through, but I wonder how employees (especially older employees, and those who don’t use chat and IM or text messages routinely outside of work) will adapt to the change.
For me, I answer texts, but I have a hard time remembering to leave Google chat open – or noticing it when someone does try to message me. It already annoys some of my co-workers, but I figure that I work in a small organization, where my desk is less than 100 feet from any of my co-workers. And both my cell phone and my desk phone work – and I get email 24/7 on multiple devices.
So if they really want me, and I don’t answer their chat request…they can still find me. I’ll deal with a change when I have to, and in the meantime, I have no plans to worry about it.