Seeking a more effective way to manage time and communications, European IT giant Atos recently announced that it would be eliminating all internal emails from the company by February 2014.
CEO Thierry Breton, who’s steered clear of internal emails for more than five years, claims that the amount of time spent sorting, organizing and responding to an ever-expanding inbox (estimated at about ¼ of an employee’s workday) calls for a serious change in the company’s communication approach.
Though the concept may seem quirky at first, Atos is simply the most recent in a long line of forward-thinkers that have questioned the efficiency of email in professional settings. Recent trends are already showing that younger internet users are weaning off their inboxes, which they often perceive as overly formal.
So what medium will Atos have stepping into email’s 40-year-old shoes? They will deploy a combination of crowd-sourced documents, internal and external instant messaging systems, social media platforms, text messages, phone conversations and (gasp!) face-to-face meetings.
Radicati, a technology market research firm, has recently released research indicating that the use of these formerly unconventional communication devices is spreading like wildfire in corporate settings.
In 2009, the firm reported 219 million corporate IM users (of both internal and public IM platforms) and predicted numbers would rise to 524 Million by 2013. Social networking is also gaining professional credibility, with Radicati’s recent surveys revealing that 55 percent of respondents now use internal and external networks for business purposes.
At the turn of the millennium, while some were stocking up on water and non-perishables, writer and consultant Art Rosenberg was working on a new term to designate an emerging kind of synchronized, streamlined communications. He coined it Unified Communications; a term that would eventually encompass all previously mentioned new and not-so-new mediums.
Today, UC solutions stand for a set of applications and tools that make information as fluid and platform-agnostic as possible by seamlessly integrating and streamlining all the tools one might use to communicate.
At the heart of UC is the concept of “presence,” comparable to an online/offline/busy/away messenger status, but applied to every facet of your communications tool belt. UC allows you to organize contacts and keep them updated on your ‘communication status’- so colleagues, partners and customers can constantly be kept in the loop on whether you’re currently available to chat, IM, text, talk on the phone, conference call, Skype, crowd source, data share or video message.
If you’re unavailable, UC tools and settings will efficiently streamline the information to you through the appropriate device as soon as you’re available.
The medium is the message, but don’t shoot the messenger
Previous attempts have been made at lightening the email load, as can be seen with the now quasi-obsolete Google Wave and with Facebook’s anticlimactic Project Titan (which in 2010, had techies predicting the end of Gmail and today, barely rings a bell). In a recent Fast Company piece, Steve Rosenbaum steps way out of the box by suggesting that the United States Postal Service take over email platform management. This, he argues, would allow for the US Postal Service to remain relevant while reducing junk mail by attributing a cost to email advertising.
But not everyone is quite ready to bid free-access electronic mail goodbye. The medium, some argue, is not the problem. The true solution lies in teaching staff proper email etiquette and empowering them with a suite of equally relevant and useful communication tools.
According to TED curator Chris Anderson, a few golden rules may well be enough to establish a first set of corporate email guidelines and cut down on the clutter. In June 2011, the two sought out solutions to their overcrowded inboxes through his personal blog. More than 75,000 people read the duo’s cry for help and drafted up a helpful 10-point Email Charter.
It may seem basic at first glance, but think again, as a look at your inbox will likely reveal a few infractions. Here’s a hint: it’s all about efficient subject lines, short and courteous messages and distinguishing CC’s, from Forward’s, and Replys from Reply Alls. Now if all else fails and ten rules still feels like too much to handle, let me suggest the tried and tested KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.