How One Australian Company Banned Internal Emails In The Workplace

Email has had a huge impact on the way we communicate and in most workplaces, it has become the preferred way for people to interact with each other. So what would you do if you weren't allowed to use it anymore? We talk with one company that is on a mission to abolish internal emails entirely.

Emails image from Shutterstock

From sending client reports to group messages announcing to staff that there are donuts up for grabs in the kitchen, email has become an integral part of office life. It is certainly a useful communication tool but it does have its drawbacks.

How many of us have received an email from a colleague that's seated less than 1m away, asking a simple question that can be answered in less than 10 seconds in person? What about those long chain emails within your own team that gets out of control when it would have been easier to just have a group discussion in a meeting room?

And one more thing: is your office eerily quiet because everybody prefers to use emails instead of talk to each other? This was the reality at Atomic 212, an independent advertising agency. The company's CEO Jason Dooris has been in the industry for over 20 years. He remembers the advertising agencies of the past that were full of loquacious people who talked to each other and their clients verbally. It was a time before emails and mobile phones were mainstream so communication was either face-to-face or by landline.

"The modern advertising world is quiet. It used to be quite noisy and you'd constantly have to tell people to be quiet," he told Lifehacker Australia. "You actually learnt to do the job really well by listening to people; naturally, when you had a question, you'd turn to the person next to you for answers.

"I don't think the industry is as good as it used to be and I don't think people enjoy their jobs as much. They're not learning as much as well"

Dooris blames this on our dependence on emails and he believes this problem is affecting companies across most verticals. For this reason, he made a drastic decision: he banned the use of emails internally at Atomic 212. Most of the company's 50-person staff had never known a world without email so it's a bold and risky move by Dooris, but he was adamant that it would benefit Atomic 212 in the long run.

By now you're probably thinking this is one of those quixotic decisions that bosses make that employees will end up hating. I'm sure there were more than a few Atomic 212 workers who regarded the news with panic and horror. Outlawing the primary mode of communication between people would be a huge blow to productivity for the business, right?

To ease the transition, Atomic 212 spent a week going through change management with employees and put in place systems that will assist with business continuity. The company developed guidelines to ensure that staff respected the new arrangement. This includes not replacing emails with instant messengers and if an employee wants to set up a task for somebody else it can only happen after face-to-face or phone communication with the other person.

Atomic 212 also started using Wunderlist and Dropbox for task management and document sharing in lieu of emails.

"When people start to familiarise themselves with doing things without email, everything just fell into place," he said.

The email ban has been in place for just around a month now and Dooris said he can already see significant improvements within the business. For one, it eliminated what he referred to as "professional discourtesy".

"It's very easy to send an email to someone asking them to do one thing. Email allows you to do that without any consideration of whether that person can do it or whether they're having a good day or bad day," Dooris said. "In many respects, if you didn't do that by email and walked over to someone's desk and said 'Do this report by 5pm', people will think you're quite discourteous.

"It's not professional and doesn't get a good result. Professional discourtesy is rife in business and it's often done unintentionally."

Productivity, believe it or not, has actually gone up as a result of the internal email ban. While Atomic 212 is still tracking the progress of the move, Dooris estimated a 38-42 per cent increase in productivity based on the key deliverables such as the time it takes for staff to perform certain tasks for clients and in the office.

"Employees can respond to insight and feedback immediate and decisively in person," he said.

Currently, Atomic's HR department is the only part of the business that continues to use internal emails but that is set to change soon.

"I’ve been tracking the program and people are sticking to the policy of no internal emails. We are still learning how best to implement the program, and we are testing through trial and error as we go along, but so far we are seeing more talking and more communication, and this helps to build culture and productivity," Atomic 212 director of operations Victoria McKeown said.

Another one of the company's staffers, Irina Andreev, also expressed her support for the email ban. She had been using email as a work tool for 11 years before the change.

"It's a good initiative, and I am definitely seeing people talking more with each other around the office," Andreev said. "It can take some getting used to, because email has been ingrained for so long, but as long as people commit to the program then it will be good for Atomic."

The next step for Atomic 212 is to wean clients off communicating with the business through emails. The company will be ceasing email communications with its first lot of clients soon.

"Hopefully we will be able to roll this out with all our clients and show them the benefits we have yielded," Dooris said. "I think there are many businesses like ours around the world at this tipping point on deciding communications tools should be used. I believe we are at a tipping point.

"I genuinely believe, having seen what I've seen, that this is the next wave of change in workplace communication."


Is your organisation addicted to emails? What are your thoughts on banning the use of internal emails? Let us know in the comments.

This article originally appeared on Lifehacker Australia


Comments

    ...And no-one has an email chain to prove what was or wasn't said/asked/directed/ordered.

    If there is no trail, anyone can be blamed for anything, and it's usually the guy on the lowest wrung that cops the flack.

    I don't touch a damn thing, any more, until someone asks me to in a manner which leaves a record I can point to. I learnt that one the hard way.

    No emails? Fine, but now you're going to have to fill out or sign printed work requests by hand and multiple times so everyone involved gets a copy.

    C.Y.A.

      Exactly right. So many times I've been on the phone discussing something with a client and after all is said and done it is then regurgitated in an email for accountability.

    I used to email someone a simple question on a mine construction site in WA. He would respond copying in 15 people . I have no idea why some of them needed to know. Used to infuriate me.

    Yeah, if you come up to me asking a mundane question, while I'm in the middle of working, you're going to get something thrown at you. Put it in an email, and I'll get to you when I'm not in the middle of stuff I need to concentrate on. There's nothing worse that getting your train of thought interrupted. You can tell these people don't do work that actually requires their concentration, no-one in any technical field would stand for this.

      If a stupid person asks you stupid questions out loud you would find that stopping quickly.

    It depends on the curcumstanec;

    For quick, off-the-cuff questions, I'd much prefer to call/in person interactions.

    If I need to keep a record (requests, approvals, etc...), email is king.

    I agree with this article to a certain degree though. Even though, the use of emails does help speed things up, it also tend to affect the communication between co-workers, at the workplace. Where I work, people hardly look at you, or talk to you.

    They usually send you an email, asking to get something done.... This is really sad, and the technology is to blame for it. People has become so accustomed and lazier.

    Email won't go away. But I do think it's something of an outdated concept in most situations. Examples are in the comments above - needless cc-ing, backside-covering and quick questions don't sit right with email.
    Things like Outlook's no-reply-all add-in, turning off the system tray notifier and closing Outlook etc can make for a better experience, but at the end of the day if someone wants to send you cack, you'll get cack. I admire this CEO is trying. The key seems to be setting out the appropriate (better?) alternatives at the start.
    For me, email these days is little more than a notification system for other systems that I'm probably going to check later anyway.
    I've adopted a few mottos for email best practice over the years. Currently I'm at:
    - email is asynchronous. If you want a discussion in real-time either walk to my desk or use IM or voice comms.
    - if you do walk over to my desk and say "did you get my email?". I will answer "no", even if I did. If it was important/urgent enough for you to come see me, you should have done that.
    - never write/forward anything to anyone in any email you wouldn't be happy with everyone else in the company reading.
    - never write/forward anything to anyone in any email you don't want brought up at your next review (positive or negative).
    - don't send Read Receipts. Ever. Anyone that keen to cover their own bottom isn't worth accommodating.
    - never delete any email. Storage is cheap, time spent sorting/filing/finding mails isn't. Use Search Folders so you can "put" one mail in multiple "folders" if it's relevant to multiple things and you won't have to work hard to dig it out later if needed.

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