From 1000 emails a day in your inbox to ... zero?
A multinational IT services company aims to get rid of internal office emails by the year 2013, with its chief executive saying last week: "Emails are an instrument to shirk responsibility."
Atos, which had a 2010 annual revenue of 5.02 billion euro ($6.6 billion) and 74,000 employees in 42 countries, plans to replace emails with wikis and instant messaging systems that can share files and be used for video conferencing*.
The company said it has reduced its emails by 20 per cent since announcing its plan in February, through encouraging its employees to use Office Communicator, a Microsoft Instant Messenging client, and internal company webpages where workers can share and keep track of their ideas.
"The volume of emails we send and receive is unsustainable for business," Atos's chief executive Thierry Breton said in a statement this year.
"It is estimated that managers spend between five and 20 hours a week just reading and writing emails," he said, adding, "email is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business".
A US technology market research company, Radicati Group, said its study showed that, on average, an office worker received about 110 messages daily in 2010. Former Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates received 4 million emails a day, most of it spam, according to a 2004 report.
But Bart Jellema, a Sydney IT entrepreneur working on improving the efficiency of email systems, said that, while there was a need for drastic action to overcome the challenges of email information-overload, getting rid of them altogether was not the answer.
"The fact that email is still around proves that there is no better solution yet, otherwise people would have naturally shifted to it," he said.
"So banning email forces people to use even less productive tools."
Mr Jellema said instant messaging was a "productivity killer", as it required users to reply to each other immediately, creating constant interruptions.
And wikis were only useful if they were regularly maintained and updated with the latest news - and people remembered to check them frequently, he added.
Email users have increasingly been accessing their accounts via their mobiles, and turning to social networking sites such as Facebook to communicate with each other instead, a recent study showed, CNN reported.
The shift was especially noticeable for users between the ages of 12 and 17, the comScore research found.
Professor Clifford Nass from Stanford University's department of communication told the Los Angeles Times there was "no question that the amount of information that is being pressed upon people is more than they can handle", but that the solution was setting up systems to help people filter out the information - and emails - that they did not need to know.
Mr Jellema said he was working on a project called "ZeroMail", which aimed to organise emails so "your inbox only holds real email from real people".
Workers also had to change the way they used and were expected to respond to their emails.
"In many organisations there is an expectation that you deal with email as it comes in. This is an inefficient use of email. For most people best practice would to check and answer email three times a day," he said.
Email notifications, a feature now common to both native and web-based email clients, were also counter-productive, he said.
Other ways of managing email overload include using a service to unsubscribe to mailing lists and promotional emails, use aggregators that collect and summarise notifications and filter your emails so non-essential ones are forwarded to folders other than your inbox.
*A wiki is a collaborative website that allows users to add and edit content. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, is the web's best known wiki-site. Instant messaging systems - such as Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Facebook Messenger - are real-time chats that allow users to send each other short messages. Thomson Reuters Messenger is one example of a business-based messenger service, and is used by people in the financial industry.
- Sydney Morning Herald