We send an insane amount of email every day. By one estimate, over 200 billion email messages are sent and received every day. And most of that email is work-related. And most of that work-related email is internal. The average employee spends 23 percent of his or her workday responding to or writing email--checking inboxes upwards of 36 times per hour.
While it's easy to look at this deluge of communication and understand our frustrations and stress at work, perhaps it's time to use stronger language. In February 2011, Thierry Breton, CEO of French IT services company Atos, likened the barrage of electronic notes to pollution.
He called it email pollution.
Further, he called for a massive clean-up initiative. He wanted Atos to become a zero-email company. We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives," Breton said. "We are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution." Thus began a series of projects designed to streamline and improve internal communication and reduce the number of internal emails sent to zero within three years.
They failed. But they still won big.
While Atos has still not yet achieved the goal of sending no email internally, they have made huge strides. As I chronicled in my book Under New Management, Atos has improved their internal, electronic communication. The company has reduced overall email by 60 percent, going from an average of 100 email messages per week per employee to less than 40. In addition, Atos's operating margin increased from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent in 2013, earnings per share rose by more than 50 percent, and administrative costs declined from 13 percent to 10 percent. Obviously, not all of these improvements were the result of banning email, but the correlation is certainly strong.
While Atos's experience is just one anecdote, there's also a wealth of research suggesting that email is hindering our ability to get work done, and overloading our mental capacity. Reductions in email link strongly to reductions in stress, and increased in jobs satisfaction and productivity. So it's time to have an open conversation about just how much this tool is helping, and whether or not we should stop using it.
You may not be able to abandon email entirely, but that doesn't mean you won't benefit from trying.