No-E-Mail Fridays Transform Office

ByABC News
March 9, 2007, 4:38 PM

April 7, 2007 — -- It's how corporate America communicates.

Scheduling a meeting? Send an e-mail. Need that report right away? Send an e-mail. Are there serious issues in the department? Nothing a chain of e-mails can't solve.

The volume of e-mails has exploded in recent years with over 170 billion now being sent daily around the globe, according to technology market researcher Radacati Group. That's two million every second.

But many in business now worry this tool for easy communication is actually making it harder to communicate.

"Some [e-mails] are very valuable, and some of them are just an excuse not to communicate or to protect myself from something that's going on," said Jay Ellison, executive vice president at Chicago-based U.S. Cellular.

Two and a half years ago, Ellison was receiving an average of 200 e-mails a day, many of which went unopened. After getting cyber-indigestion, he sent out a memo to his 5,500 subordinates.

"I'm announcing a ban on e-mail every Friday," Ellison's memo read. "Get out to meet your teams face-to-face. Pick up the phone and give someone a call. I look forward to not hearing from any of you, but stop by as often as you like."

The no-e-mail-Friday idea landed with a thud.

"Jay's insane. He's crazy," said marketing director Kathy Volpi, recalling the initial impression she and others had. "Employees would queue up their e-mails, and then at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, they'd let them fly."

Eventually, the policy won over staff members. Forced to use the phone, employee John Coyle learned that a co-worker who he thought was across the country was, in fact, across the hall.

"I asked him where he was and he said I'm on the fourth floor, and I said, 'Well so am I,'" said Coyle. "We now have a working relationship that is deeper than he's the guy that provides reports."

Public affairs manager Tyler Caroll, because of her gender-neutral name, used to get e-mails addressing her as a "he" or "Mr." Phone calls on a no-e-mail-Friday changed all that.