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The company that banned email
The number of daily e-mails sent is expected to reach 36 billion worldwide next year.
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Global Office

LONDON, England (CNN) -- How would you cope without e-mail? For most office workers it is akin to being asked if you could exist without oxygen.

But one chief executive got so fed up with the stranglehold exerted by e-mail over his company's daily business that he banned his employees from using it.

When John Caudwell discovered last year that staff at Phones 4U, Europe's biggest independent mobile phone retailer, were spending up to three hours a day dealing with e-mails, he forced them to "get off the keyboards, get face-to-face or on to the phone to colleagues."

Caudwell estimated that the measure would save his business more than $20 million a year in wasted hours.

"It's more a question of management discipline than a pure e-mail ban," he told CNN.

"Management discipline in controlling your e-mails is vitally important in any organization. What I found when I went into the business was an enormous proliferation of e-mails and it's been quite successful in eliminating a lot of those. But e-mails are like rabbits in the spring, they multiply quickly if allowed."

Caudwell can hardly be accused of being a Luddite, having spotted the potential of mobile phones back in the mid-1980s.

Personal fortune

Since then he has built Phones 4U into a business with a $4.5 billion annual turnover and more than 8,000 employees, earning himself a personal fortune of $1.5 billion along the way.

Nine months since its introduction, Caudwell says the e-mail ban has created a more efficient communications network across the company. Key personnel are kept up to date by text messages to their mobiles and relevant news and information are posted regularly on the company's intranet.

"I saw that e-mail was insidiously invading Phone 4U so I banned it immediately. The quality and efficiency of communication have been increased tremendously in one fell swoop -- things are getting done and people aren't tied to their PCs," says Caudwell.

Other companies faced with spiraling volumes of e-mail traffic could be forgiven for casting envious glances at Caudwell's zero tolerance approach.

According to the advisory firm IDC, the number of worldwide e-mail mailboxes is expected to increase from 500 million in 2000 to 1.2 billion in 2005.

By next year the number of person-to-person e-mails sent daily will have hit 36 billion worldwide. And the volume of spam continues to grow despite already doubling in the past two years.

Monica Seeley, co-author of "Managing in the Email Office", says the best solution is to train staff to use e-mail properly, rather than banning it outright.

For Seeley, the key to a good working relationship with your inbox is separating the "noise" from the useful messages. Think also whether an e-mail is really necessary before sending it -- otherwise you could just be spamming a colleague.

"Some people are driven by e-mail, but for most people it is one of many forms of communication," says Seeley.

"You should come in and deal with it in the morning then wait for a period before looking at it again. We've all forgotten that wonderful device, the phone on our desk."

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