Social business: Should you ban internal email at work?

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When people ask me to explain what social business is all about, I’ve found that describing it as an alternative to email for internal communication and collaboration is an easy-to-grasp starting point.

What makes this explanation even more interesting is that last week Thierry Breton, CEO of IT services firm Atos announced his intention to have a “zero email” policy within the next 18 months. This statement has been seen by many as controversial, but some believe this will be viewed as normal rather than exceptional in the not too distant future.

Breton highlights that internal emails are becoming increasingly demanding of time. As users accumulate more and more data in their inboxes  (which may or may not be relevant to their job) searching for key information becomes more difficult and time consuming. Thus Thierry is suggesting that eradicating internal email will make his internal team more efficient.

Let’s be clear – email is not going away any time soon and Atos would still use it for external communication. However, transforming the internal communication model in this way this way is a definite move towards becoming a social business. In fact, Atos would not be the first multinational company moving towards a social business model and IT companies are ideally placed to pioneer this change as they have the in-house resource to implement these systems and the desire to be leaders in the field.

Here are just  a few areas where moving away from email for internal process can be beneficial:

For the workforce of the future

In an interview with the BBC, Breton highlighted how “most of the young people that we were hiring were not using email anymore after graduating from universities. They were instead mainly using instant messaging tools and social networks like Facebook – and for most of them, when they joined Atos it was first time they had ever worked with internal email tools like [Microsoft] Outlook.”

I expect that much of the criticism of Breton’s desired policy has arisen from a confusion as to what tools will be used – “Facebook/Twitter-like” may be misleading, causing people to imagine an informal or very short-form discussion. Social business tools will be purpose built for enterprise, but retain the familiar user experience of the major social networks. The adoption of these platforms will come naturally to younger recruits and is only going to become more prevalent over time.

Stop attaching, start collaborating

The ability to work on documents collaboratively is perhaps what excites me the most about social business. Tools such as Chatter or Confluence (see our list of collaboration tools for social business for other examples) offer secure environments for documents to be shared and worked on simultaneously. Freedom from the need to track, revise and merge changes into a single document is a great boost to efficiency.

It goes beyond the sharing of documents, though, as pooling skills and knowledge will be another benefit. In a large enterprise, the ability to quickly identify others who may have the skills or knowledge you need for a project will be invaluable. Individuals will be able to tag their areas of expertise, or even topics that they are interested in and so be able to contribute even if they are from different departments or countries.

Top down change

Successful transformation to a social business requires senior buy-in, and so I hope that Breton is successful in proving the value of alternatives to internal email. If this is the case then Atos will be a valuable example for others looking to demonstrate the benefits to management.

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