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Information Overload: A workplace without email?

By C.J. CASTILLO
Dec. 3, 2011 at 6:03 a.m.
Updated Dec. 4, 2011 at 6:04 a.m.


"Email is down."

Those three words can either instill terror or bring instant relief for many employees in this brave new world dependent on technology.

For Thierry Breton those words wouldn't cause him to blink an eye, as email will be a thing of the past at his company. Breton is the 56-year-old chief executive at Atos and plans to phase out internal emails over the next three years. Atos is one of Europe's largest technology companies, which employs almost 80,000.

Breton told the Daily Mail that only 20 out of every 200 emails received by his staff were important and said that, "email is no longer the appropriate tool. It is time to think differently."

He also pointed to a recent study from ORSE that said, "Reading useless messages is terrible for concentration as it takes 64 seconds to get back on the ball after doing so. Poorly controlled, email can become a devastating tool."

"If people want to talk to me, they can come and visit me, call or send me a text message. Emails cannot replace the spoken word." said Breton.

Breton wants to encourage his employees to talk to each other in person or by phone. The CEO said he plans to replace email with an internal instant messaging interface, similar to the one used on Facebook and other social media sites. Employees will still use email to correspond externally, with clients and such.

It used to be that having an email system at work go on the blitz was no big deal. You could always walk on over and have a real conversation with a real human being, or pick up that device on your desk with all the buttons and receiver. I think it's called a telephone.

However, in this day of texting, instant messaging, tweeting, Facebooking and emailing, entire businesses are run without so much as seeing the face or hearing the voice of another person. Wait. Sometimes that can be a good thing.

Not all of these technological advances are necessary in day-to-day work. But take email away from someone for a day, and by noon you'll see that person going through email withdrawal: Eyes glazed over, hands twitching, reaching for their smartphone every few minutes to read that email that will never be. Feeling the sensation of phantom buzzing from their iPhones, of email alerts from the past, taunting them.

So many of us today rely on email for work, but at the same time, think of all the "useless" emails we get mixed in with the important messages. Then think of all the time we spend on scouring and filtering through all those messages to get to the ones we really need. I can see how Breton's idea is a positive one.

Time will tell how this new phase at Atos will go over.

In the meantime, I have more than 4,000 emails to go through, and a few lolcat emails to send. Yes. I'm "that" person.

CJ Castillo writes about geeky stuff for the Victoria Advocate. You can contact her at cjcastillo@vicad.com. Please send all correspondence c/o Victoria Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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