Image: Engagdet

You heard right.

Eighteen months from now Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos—one of the largest information technology companies in the world, plans to have eliminated email as a communication and collaboration medium within his company. “If people want to talk to me, call or send me a text message,” said Breton. “Emails cannot replace the spoken word.”

According to an article written by Peter Allen in the Daily Mail,  Atos’ nearly 80,000 employees in 42 countries will have stopped using email eighteen months from now and will have replaced it with social media tools, the telephone and face-to-face conversations. Should you read this and assume that Breton is a 30-something young maverick trying to make a statement, you’d be wrong. The 56-year old chief executive is the former French finance minister who believes that only 20 out of every 200 emails received by his staff every day turn out to be important.

“[E]mail is no longer the appropriate tool,” said Breton. “It is time to think differently.”

Breton cites a number of examples of how email wastes time including:

  1. The “deluge” of information that plagues organizations
  2. The need to review “useless” emails and the time it takes to get focused again on important tasks
  3. The “pile” of email that employees end up sorting through after hours and the associated drain on employees’ personal time

What’s more “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,” writes Allen. “Poorly controlled, the e-mail can become a devastating tool.”

Email is such an integrated and ubiquitous part of how most organizations get work done that I’m not sure completely eliminating it from our cadre of communication tools is practical, but I am very interested in Breton’s implication that social media-like instant messaging has the same value as “the spoken word.”

I’m a big fan of anything that will help teams collaborate more naturally—and social media tools have demonstrated they can do that. What’s more, I don’t think it’s only younger members of the workforce who are seeing the benefit of a social media approach (as the 56-year old Breton demonstrates).

Writing for The Telegraph, Henry Samuel writes, “The younger generation have already all but scrapped the email, with only 11 percent of 11 to 19 year-olds using it, according to, and online social networking is now more popular than email and search.”

Although I don’t want to be a focus group of one, I find myself using (and often preferring) a text message or other social-media interaction to email for some communication. I have a number of friends and colleagues around the world with whom a text or Facebook message is our preferred way to interact.

“Companies must prepare for the new wave of usage and behavior,” said Breton. I agree.

Thirty years ago, I would never have imagined how personal computers, smart phones and the Internet would have impacted my life. I must admit, I didn’t take email seriously when I first started using it . Now, I probably spend more time using my smart phone for email or to text than as a telephone—I don’t think I’m alone.

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