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Last Updated: Friday, 19 October 2007, 07:08 GMT 08:08 UK
Turn off e-mail and do some work
By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter, BBC News

With inboxes bulging with messages and many workers dreading the daily deluge of e-mail, some companies are taking drastic action.

Paul Otellini, Intel chief executive
Paul Otellini urged his engineers to talk more
Intel has become the latest in an increasingly long line of companies to launch a so-called 'no e-mail day'.

On Fridays, 150 of its engineers revert to more old-fashioned means of communication.

In actual fact e-mail isn't strictly forbidden but engineers are encouraged to talk to each other face to face or pick up the phone rather than rely on e-mail.

In Intel's case the push to look again at the culture of e-mail followed a comment from chief executive Paul Otellini criticising engineers "who sit two cubicles apart sending an e-mail rather than get up and talk".

US experiments

The idea of a no e-mail day is not a new one in the US, where companies have been reaping the benefits of shutting down their inboxes for one day of the week.

Firms such as US Cellular and Deloitte and Touche have been experimenting with e-mail for some time.

Last year, fulfilment firm PBD launched a no e-mail Friday, when chief executive Scott Dockter suspected that over-dependence on e-mail was damaging productivity.

Four months later the company felt the trial had been a resounding success, with better teamwork, happier customers and quicker problem solving.

Email stress

Woman looking stressed
Some people get stressed by e-mails
According to US research firm The Radicati Group, individual workers sent an average of 37 e-mails a day in 2006 with predictions this will rise to 47 by the end of this year.

Another study conducted by researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Paisley found that one third of users felt stressed by the heavy volume of e-mail they had to deal with.

When e-mail behaviour was tracked it is was found that many were checking their inbox as often as 30 to 40 times per hour.

"There was a mismatch between how often people thought they looked at their inbox and how often they actually did it," said Mario Hare, a lecturer at the University of Paisley.

He also found that people were setting their own rules when it came to dealing with e-mail.

"Some people had a very relaxed attitude to it while others felt they had to respond immediately to every e-mail," he said.

He believes that no e-mail days can be useful particularly among workers who need to concentrate for long periods of time.

With colleagues, he is working on some add-ons to e-mail clients that could give power back to recipients. It includes providing a time for when a reply is expected as well as introducing a ranking system for different messages.

Resource-draining monster

Not everyone is convinced that switching e-mail off is the answer to stress and lack of productivity in the office.

"Instead of bringing e-mail to a grinding halt at the end of the week - which of course just means that most of Monday is wasted catching up - companies need to educate their staff on the appropriate use and management of e-mail," said Alan Elliot, director of business development of e-mail specialists Mirapoint.

"Depicting e-mail as some kind of resource-draining monster that we'd all be better off without wilfully ignores the realities of the modern business world," he said.

Intel however seems determined to investigate new ways of working. Borrowing an idea more traditionally associated with pre-school, the chip giant has also introduced Quiet Time.

Unfortunately this doesn't mean a daily nap is on the agenda but it does offer half a day a week to devote to uninterrupted work in offline mode.

It seems a backlash against the always-on workplace has truly begun.

Pulling the plug on the internet
26 Sep 07 |  Technology
Online and offline worlds merge
31 May 07 |  Technology

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