One of the largest information technology companies in the world is to ban e-mails – because it says 90 per cent of them are a waste of time.
The extraordinary measure was announced by Atos, which employs almost 80,000 people in 42 countries including Britain.
It believes that too many of them waste hours dealing with irrelevant e-mails, so wants them phased out within 18 months.
Instead they want people to spend more time talking to each other – either on the phone or in person – and to use tightly controlled ‘real time’ messaging interfaces.
Thierry Breton, Atos’s 56-year-old chief executive officer who is a former French finance minister, said the ‘zero e-mail’ policy could be in place within a year-and-a-half.
‘It is not right that some of our fellow employees spend hours in the evening dealing with their e-mails,’ said Mr Breton.
Claiming that only 20 out of every 200 emails received by his staff every day turn out to be important, Mr Breton said: ‘The e-mail is no longer the appropriate tool. It is time to think differently.
‘The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face,’ said Mr Breton.
He said the main problem was people switching to a ‘useless’ email while they were carrying out a far more important task.
Allowing e-mails to stack up also means that staff have huge e-mail workloads to pile through when they get home.
Mr Breton pointed to a recent study by the business watchdog ORSE, which reads: ‘Reading useless messages is terrible for concentration, as it takes 64 seconds to get back on the ball after doing so. Poorly controlled, the e-mail can become a devastating tool.’
Mr Breton suggested that a real time messaging interface as available on sites like Facebook would be far preferable to email, with staff also encouraged to talk to each other in person.
‘Companies must prepare for the new wave of usage and behaviour,’ he said, adding that he always preferred proper conversations.
‘If people want to talk to me, they can come and visit me, call or send me a text message,’ said Mr Breton. ‘Emails cannot replace the spoken word.’
A prominent division of Atos is Atos Healthcare, which employs some 3,000 people in the UK, most of them medics.