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Tech company wants to end 'email pollution' by 2013

December 5, 2011 |  3:53 pm

  Atos

How many work emails do you get a day? 80? 200? 500? More than 1,000?

If you are one of the many people who feel overwhelmed by the daily deluge of unnecessary emails in your inbox, consider applying for a job at Atos. The French IT services company is hoping to become a zero email company by 2013.

"We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching on our personal lives," said Thierry Breton, Atos' chairman and chief executive, in a statement. "At Atos Origin we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution."

Email pollution? That's one way to look at it.

While the idea of an email-free existence makes the prospect of coming back from a vacation more palatable, it's hard to imagine how a company of Atos' size -- 74,000 employees spread out over 42 international offices -- can function without emailing.

In an interview with ABC News, a spokeswoman for Atos said the company was still evaluating different solutions, but that the end result will probably be a mix of collaborative social media tools like the Atos Wiki that enables employees to communicate by contributing or modifying online content, and also the company's online chat system that also enables video conferencing and file sharing.

She added that the company has already reduced internal email by 20% since it started working towards the zero email goal six months ago.

For a bit of context on Atos' unusual goal, we called Clifford Nass, director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab at Stanford University and author of the book "The Man Who Lied to His Laptop."

"There is no question that the amount of information that is being pressed upon people is more than they can handle," he said, but he's not convinced Atos has found a good solution to the problem.

"The increase of chat is almost certainly a bad thing," he said. "There is a lot of evidence that it is more of a hindrance than a help."

Chat, he said, is simultaneously more distracting than email -- if someone wants to chat, they want to chat NOW -- and generally less valuable than email since people tend to type out whatever first comes to mind.

As for the idea of a central document that everyone keeps updating, he said that only works if everyone also remembers to check it frequently.

"The real core of this is how often people know what they need to know," he said. "The more people know what they need to know, the more you can have systems with centralized documents and then people know where they can go to find out what they need to know. But when you don't know you need to know something on the document, how will you know to check?"

The issue, he said, is finding the balance between making sure people get information they need to know and are not bogged down with information they don't need to know.

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-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: Thierry Breton, chief executive of Atos, speaks at the Euro Finance Week conference in Frankfurt, Germany, in November. He has said he hasn't sent or received in an email in three years. Credit: Hannelore Foerster / Bloomberg.

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