For many of the folks out there, there is no life without emails.

I remember when there was one of the senior management “gyan” sessions when TCS went public. One of the questions was “how does your typical day look like”. The intent was to tell the ranks what their senior people do, how do they work, and what they can learn from them.

You have to give it to them for being honest. Almost 90% began their answer with “I come to office”, “I check emails” … What other inspiration do you need!?

For many in IT, checking emails is the part and parcel of life. After the advent of broadband at my home, I have never stayed away from email for more than 1-2 hours. Either I will be using personal email answering to my thousands of fans (ha ha!), or checking the official email that wants me to do a lot of things – including standing upside down for 10 minutes.

Emails help queue up my tasks in Outlook, and my zero inbox formula helps me stay sane with the 150+ emails a day floating around in a single inbox.


A plan to get rid of emails

When I had heard about Atos’s plan to have no emails for conversations amongst its employees. I knew this could be done with lot of discipline, but it requires a lot of re-learning and I was curious about the results. Atos wanted to do this within a time frame of 3 years. They even employed a “zero email program manager” to drive the task.

It is 3 years since that announcement, and Atos has announced that emails have reduced by 60%. In a recent conversation with PC Mag, Atos admitted as much and gave away the means they employed to reduce emails –

  1. Lync and SharePoint
  2. BlueKiwi

Lync is a great piece of software. It allows you not only to chat, but instantly communicate, video chat, and collaborate in real-time using screen sharing, taking notes, and white boarding. SharePoint can help store documents, and collaboratively work on documents – it isn’t my favourite document management system out there.

I knew little about BlueKiwi, but it looks like any other enterprise social platform. Think about Yammer/Chatter for the enterprise. It starts from 3 Euros per person per month.

By looking at what Atos proposed and what they have done, it looks like a big publicity stunt to me. Their BlueKiwi product may be the greatest of the social platforms, and Lync may have all the real-time collaboration features you need, but they have only been able to reduce email flow by 60%. Not that impressive, I would say.


Are Emails bad?

I can never agree to the statement of “emails waste time”, “emails harm productivity”. Emails are the very reason I and many of the people like us can do our job.

A lot of conversations amongst global teams are asynchronous, and does not need an immediate answer. A lot of communication happens addressed to the person, or addressed to a specific group. Action items are notified, views exchanged, and communication takes place.

Are we using emails like they were meant to be used? Yes, and no.

email productivity tasks

Everything evolves, and emails are no different. Emails were the best to do certain things, but technology has changed drastically.  As is the case with change, people are lagging behind in adopting them.

The following are things I would certainly do in emails –

  • One on one communication
  • Try to correct a person, or point out a problem attributed to specific person or group of people
  • Communicate with people who are outside the ecosystem

And, the following are something I would do on a different platform –

  • Group emails about a particular system problem, and solution options. Group collaboration tools including enterprise social tools are the best platforms to get this job done
  • Tasks to be queued up for your action. There are a lot of task managers out there, chose one (or two)
  • Instant communication, or request for action – use chat tools (e.g. Lync, or use Google Hangout)
  • Sharing of documents – SharePoint, or any other easy-to-use document management tools make it really easy to work on shared documents

Emails are embedded deeply in the psyche of modern humans.

email funny

It will take some time to introduce a change, however positive it can be. People tend to go back to “our old, trusted way of doing things” in spite of whatever advantages of the change.

But, change will come. You can be prepared now and enjoy its benefits, or suffer later.