A sensible e-mail strategy in the workplace can still bring huge benefits for business, says Roger Ellis.
When I heard that Phones 4U had banned the use of internal e-mail because staff had complained that its increased volume was preventing them from doing their job properly, one phrase sprung to mind: "a bad workman always blames his tools".
To be of benefit to an organisation e-mail must be used intelligently. Let e-mail run unfettered and you are in trouble, but used correctly it will enable more efficient communications, cut costs and increase productivity.
There are many reasons why I think e-mail is here to stay and that Phones 4U's decision is ill-considered and short-termist.
E-mail gives you a hard copy of any decision that is made. It provides an audit trail that can be easily followed. While it is nice to think we could do all our internal business over the telephone or face-to-face, there are times when things have to be in writing so there is no misunderstanding and so that everyone is clear on what action has been decided on.
An e-mail ban will almost certainly lead to a corresponding increase in internal memos.
Think of the instances when written confirmation is required - new appointments, budget instructions, company results - the list is endless. Without e-mail we will go back to being engulfed by internal memos, as used to be the case.
E-mail is also less formal than internal memos, which can help communications within a company become more fluid and to the point.
Without e-mail extra costs will inevitably be incurred - e-mails are written by workers at all levels - memos are usually produced by secretaries. Get rid of e-mail and you risk the cost of having to employ more secretarial staff.
Some have criticised e-mail as a tool that is predominantly used to pass the buck and cover one's back by cc-ing in all and sundry. If this is a major issue then why not ban multiple e-mails. Make it a rule that an e-mail can only be sent between two parties.
While the personal use of e-mail can hinder productivity, getting rid of it will not stop people from talking about the football at the weekend or passing on jokes. Personal phone calls were an issue for managers long before e-mail was invented.
E-mail gives us speed - it is a virtually instantaneous form of communication and a godsend for people who have to communicate with colleagues in other countries working in different time zones.
Instead of spending time trying to track down someone by telephone, with e-mail you can deal with a situation as it arises, send off an e-mail and then wait for the person to reply at a convenient time.
And if someone is sending sexist or racist e-mails, this is a management issue, not a reason to get rid of e-mail. Surely if you notify all staff that such action will result in dismissal, the problem will wither away.
E-mail may have made it easier for companies to send out junk mail but if technology has created this problem, I would like to think technology also has the wit to come up with a solution.
What do you think?
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Roger Ellis is chairman of the IT Directors Network
This was first published in September 2003