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Flying Envelopes (Chad Anderson/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Flying Envelopes (Chad Anderson/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Mark Evans

The end of corporate e-mail as we know it? Add to ...

People have a love-hate relationship with e-mail.

It’s a terrific communications medium, which explains why it is still alive and well in a world increasingly dominated by social media. At the same time, e-mail can be time-consuming, overwhelming and a productivity killer.

And while there is no lack of methodologies and approaches to manage or take control of your inbox, most people, including myself, have little or no discipline when it comes to how often and when they check e-mail.

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In other words, e-mail has taken over our professional and personal lives.

So what is the answer to our e-mail woes? What can be done to wrestle back control so it serves a valuable function but doesn’t dominate our digital words? For some companies, the solution is embracing a radical approach that will be watched closely to see if it’s actually effective.

Last month, Atos S.A., an international information technology company with more than 78,000 employees in 42 countries, announced a new program called “Zero E-mail” that would eliminate inter-company e-mail within three years.

“It is not normal for some of our employees to spend hours in the evening at home to manage their messaging,” said Atos chief executive officer Thierry Breton, adding that the volume of e-mail being sent and received is “unsustainable for business.”

Another blow to corporate email is a decision made by Volkswagen to deactivate e-mail for its unionized employees in Germany outside of work hours. Under the new policy, employees will only receive e-mail 30 minutes after and 30 minutes before their work schedule.

The new policy only applies to staff members covered by collective bargaining, which means senior executives will not be able to escape the 7/24 reality of e-mail.

Atos and Volkswagen’s decisions to cut down e-mail prove it’s a major issue. The inbox problem is exacerbated by the number of companies that not only think it is perfectly acceptable to send employees at any time, but they expect quick responses, even during non-work hours.

At the same time, employees are checking their inboxes constantly, even when they are not working. In many ways, it explains why you see so many people walking in a digital daze while they pore over e-mails on their smartphones.

It is a situation that has spun out of control despite efforts to rein it in. It explains why Atos and Volkswagen have decided to do something outside the box to attack the problem. For all of our sakes, let’s hope they are successful.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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