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Tech firm wants to ban office e-mail

Brandon Griggs, CNN
All told, we're sending about 300 billion e-mails a day worldwide, according to research firm Radicati.
All told, we're sending about 300 billion e-mails a day worldwide, according to research firm Radicati.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An IT services firm plans to ban internal e-mail from company communications
  • CEO estimates only 10% of the 200 messages employees receive per day are useful
  • Instead, employees will communicate mostly through instant-messaging tools

(CNN) -- Imagine: A workday without e-mail.

To office workers everywhere struggling to stem the tide of messages filling their inbox, it probably sounds too good to be true.

But a French tech company wants to make it a reality. Calling the volume of its e-mail "unsustainable," IT services firm Atos plans to ban internal e-mail from company communications within two years.

Instead, employees will communicate mostly through instant-messaging tools or wiki-like documents that can be edited by multiple users online.

"We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives," said Atos CEO Thierry Breton in a statement earlier this year. "At Atos ... we are taking action now to reverse this trend."

The issue gained new traction last week when Breton gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said he hadn't sent a work e-mail in three years. "If people want to talk to me, they can come and visit me, call or send me a text message," he told the newspaper. "Emails cannot replace the spoken word."

Breton estimates that only 10% of the 200 messages his employees receive on an average day are useful, and that 18% is spam. Managers spend between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing e-mails, he says. Atos has 74,000 employees in 42 countries.

An Atos spokeswoman told CNN that response to Breton's policy has been "positive" and that the company has reduced its volume of internal e-mails by 20 percent in six months.

If trends are any indication, Atos may be on to something. Recent surveys have found e-mail use declining rapidly among younger people who prefer faster, less formal means of communication such as texting or instant messaging on Facebook or Twitter.

"Atos' decision ... is perhaps the most ringing endorsement yet for the notion that email is being gradually phased out of [the workplace]," wrote BonitaSoft CEO Miguel Valdés Faura on the tech blog GigaOm. "It will be interesting to see how many other large scale organizations will follow in its footsteps over the next several years."

Interesting indeed. Many harried employees may welcome such an experiment -- unless it means more time spent in meetings.

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