The CEO of Atos, Europe’s largest information technology firm, has banned the use of internal e-mail at his company, according to Steven Rosenbaum of Fast Company magazine. Thierry Breton reportedly believes that “90 percent of messages sent between employees are a waste of time.” Breton has asked his employees to communicate with one another in person, via telephone or by using social networking tools.
While certainly there have been days when it seems as if I’ve done nothing other than respond to e-mail, I have to believe that CEO Breton is making a mistake. It’s true that there can be life without e-mail. The workplace existed prior to e-mail technology, and, as I recall, we all managed quite well without it. But, I also remember welcoming e-mail as a fabulous addition to the communications toolbox.
Some companies have limited communication almost solely to
e-mail, and that’s when e-mail overwhelms.
That toolbox concept is the key to this issue for CEOs, professional communicators and employees alike. In a carpenter’s toolbox, every tool has its appointed function – the task at which it is most useful. For example, one can use the handle of a screwdriver to drive a nail, but a hammer will do the task much more efficiently. Further, a carpenter who uses only a screwdriver for all his carpentry tasks will likely not be a particularly skillful carpenter. Using the appropriate tool in communications is just as important as it is in carpentry.
In this sluggish economy, many companies are rejecting pricier forms of mass communication – large corporate meetings, glossy print magazines, satellite television broadcasts, etc. Some have limited communication almost solely to e-mail, and that’s when e-mail overwhelms.
But it isn’t just corporate execs and their communications teams making these choices. Individuals also propagate lengthy e-mail strings when a phone call would have increased collaboration and likely improved the outcome. E-mail has quickly become the go-to solution for almost every office communications task.
Good communicators know that there are many factors to consider: Who is the audience? What is your purpose? Will the proposed delivery medium impact the message in a negative way? Will using a particular medium increase the likelihood of reaching your desired outcome? These are questions everyone should ask.
Should internal e-mail be outlawed in the workplace? No, of course not. But giving some thought to your chosen medium before hitting the “Send” button will always improve the communication.
What about you? Are you choosing e-mail too often?