Intel Flirts With No-EMail Fridays - InformationWeek

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10/15/2007
10:39 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Intel Flirts With No-EMail Fridays

OK, so Intel hasn't actually asked employees to take a permanent e-mail break one day a week, but the chip giant -- like several other forward-thinking companies -- has been pilot-testing temporary moratoriums on time-wasting communications. The idea is gaining ground in Corporate America, as noted recently in The Wall Street Journal.

OK, so Intel hasn't actually asked employees to take a permanent e-mail break one day a week, but the chip giant -- like several other forward-thinking companies -- has been pilot-testing temporary moratoriums on time-wasting communications. The idea is gaining ground in Corporate America, as noted recently in The Wall Street Journal.As Intel principal engineer Nathan Zeldes explains it in the company's [email protected] blog, the push to scale back on compulsive e-mailing has come right from the top. He cited CEO Paul Otellini's quote in The Financial Times, where he criticized "the fact the engineers two cubicles apart send an e-mail rather than get up and talk."

That sentiment found a voice -- a voice that said "shush" -- in a pilot program, called "Quiet Time," involving 300 engineers and managers:

"Every Tuesday morning they will all set their e-mail and IM clients to offline, forward their phones to voice mail, decline all meetings, and isolate themselves from visitors by putting up a 'Do not disturb' sign at their doorway. Thus, for half a day each week they will have the ability to focus on the thinking work that researchers have shown is critical to creativity, innovation, and to faster, better production of output."

The pilot was apparently such a success that, earlier this month, Intel did a more ambitious test, where 150 engineers embarked upon a "Zero E-Mail Friday." Well, almost:

"Actually this is a misnomer, since e-mail is not forbidden on the Friday. . .In our new pilot, we encourage the members of an organic group to focus each Friday on direct conversation -- face to face or by telephone -- for interpersonal communication within the group. Processing e-mail from other groups is OK; sending e-mail within the group is also OK -- when it is necessary. But as much as possible, they will try to walk across the aisle or pick up the phone. While this may seem a small thing, experiments done in other companies showed a great impact once people started exploring communication with the human voice."

Remember, we're talking major corporation here, so doing something whole hog -- like actually completely cutting off e-mail for a full day in one fell swoop -- just isn't done. But clearly, Intel's heart is in the right (write?) place.

Importantly, Intel isn't the only organization where this idea is gaining ground. As that Wall Street Journal story I mentioned notes, companies such as U.S. Cellular and Deloitte & Touche also have tried e-mail-free days. The story describes scenarios where there's initial resistance, but eventually everyone's pretty much happy with the benefits of increased "face time."

Is this realistic? Probably not. It's a truism about e-mail -- where have I heard this before? -- that you can't live with it but you can't live without it. Sure, most companies overuse e-mail, and endless, nonsensical threads are dangerously prevalent. On the other hand, for minor matters, e-mail is much more efficient than either the telephone or personal contact.

Me, I'm not engaged in the anti-e-mail conversation, because it seems like a new time-waster on top of an existing time-waster. What I do instead is to routinely turn off my instant messaging. Indeed, I do complete AIM-free weeks. It's the most effective way I've found to reclaim my workday.

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