As the holiday vacation arrives, it's good to remember that there once was a time when people didn't get e-mail at all hours of the day or night. Now, Volkswagen has agreed to give German workers a taste of that world.
Following a union agreement, the largest European carmaker will limit work-related e-mails on the BlackBerry smartphones of about 1,200 workers to a half-hour before and a half-hour after the workday for its staff. Mobile devices will still be available for calls by those workers, at any time.
No Longer 'Switch Off'
According to news reports, the agreement only relates to those workers covered by collective bargaining, thus apparently leaving executives to the same always-on schedule. The Trades Union Congress has issued a statement cautioning that Volkswagen's solution may not work in other organizations.
Another German company, Deutsche Telekom, created a Smart Device Policy in 2010 that allows workers to have a communication-free time when they're not at work. At the time, the company said that mobile communication devices have advantages, but they also create conditions where employees can no longer "switch off" their worktime.
Communication overload is also being addressed by other European companies. For example, international IT services company Atos Origin proclaimed an ambition in February to become a "zero e-mail company" within three years. CEO and Chairman Thierry Breton said in a statement that "we are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and encroaching into our personal lives."
'Unsustainable for Business'
Thierry said the volume of work-related e-mail was "unsustainable for business," with managers spending five to 20 hours weekly on e-mails, using 25 percent of their time searching for information, and finding that only about 15 percent of the e-mails received in a day were useful.
He added that his company was "taking action to reverse this trend" of internal e-mail pollution, "just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution." To counter this informational time drain, Breton said that Atos Origin has set up collaboration tools and social community platforms, to track ideas on subjects.
"Businesses need to do more of this," he said, because "e-mail is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business." The company said that the use of the social media tools has, according to initial feedback, reduced e-mail by 10 percent to 20 percent.
In an interview with the BBC, Breton, who has been the chief executive and chairman of France Telecom and the French minister of economy, finance, and industry, noted that newly graduated young employees were not using e-mail that much anymore, having transitioned to social media. He said using e-mail for external communications with other organizations is still useful, while internal e-mail is used largely as a communication tool, a place to store content, or for other uses beyond e-mail's original intent.