'No E-mail Fridays' a Band-Aid Approach to Bigger Problem

Ann All
Slide Show

Tips on Controlling Your E-mail So It Doesn't Control You

Is the office no longer the best place to get work done? It's an increasingly popular viewpoint, advanced by folks like 37signals founder Jason Fried.


I'm a longtime teleworker who only visits the IT Business Edge office one or two days a week. I'm also a confirmed hater of lengthy meetings, overstuffed e-mail inboxes and other office fixtures that Fried and others rightfully point out waste far too much of our time at the office. So I definitely get why some companies are trying things like "no e-mail Fridays."


Management consultant Daniel Patrick Forrester, author of "Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization," mentions the practice in a Washington Post column, writing that Atlanta-based shipping and fulfillment services company PBD Global had "dramatically decreased the volume of e-mail traffic without losing any efficiency or productivity" with its no e-mail Fridays rule. He says:

... By forcing employees to connect in person or over the phone, the company has driven down total e-mail volume while also building stronger employee relationships. PBD also discovered that reams of routine divisional status report e-mails, filled with statistics and weekly performance data, were better off posted to the company's intranet.

Here I should say I agree with the overall theme of Forrester's column, which is that companies must be careful not to let e-mail, instant messaging and other quick forms of communication completely replace longer and more personal dialogues. He says:

While immediacy and novel methods for instant communications have a place, they are hurting our ability to be reflective. The best ideas and insights come to us when we are away from the data and distraction. Prolonged and expansive dialogues allow leaders to better understand the problems they are supposedly solving. Cultures of debate and dissent allow for a routine questioning of the status quo and ingrained beliefs. Big ideas and new methods to innovate are rarely revealed inside minds that are tired, distracted and slaves to our digital umbilical cords. ...

Few modern workplaces offer opportunities for reflection, and that can hurt our ability to get our jobs done. When I interviewed Steven Zink, Ph.D., vice president of Information Technology and dean of University Libraries at the University of Nevada, Reno, he told me a lack of time for reflection was "a huge problem" for most CIOs, who often find themselves in reactive mode simply because they aren't able to focus on long-term strategy as much as they might like.

Still, I confess I am skeptical of the idea of eliminating e-mail one day a week. A Google search on "no e-mail Fridays" yielded lots of stories from 2007 about companies either considering or adopting the practice. Yesterday, I sent e-mails (of course) to a couple of those companies trying to find out if they had retained their no e-mail Fridays. They mostly went unanswered. (Maybe they were now abstaining on Mondays?)


I did get a response from Genevieve Haldeman in corporate communications at Symantec. I had asked her if Symantec had considered the practice after it purchased Veritas Software, a company mentioned in one of the stories I found. Her response, in part: "From what I understand, this lasted about a month at Veritas and never made it to Symantec with the acquisition." Hmmm. I also found a reference that e-mail volumes increased on Mondays and Thursdays at companies with no e-mail Fridays.


Although an interesting idea, I don't think eliminating e-mail on Fridays adequately addresses the bigger problem of e-mail misuse at most companies. How many e-mails could be eliminated if people adopted the common-sense practice of adding "no response required" or "respond only to sender" on e-mail messages when appropriate? Or by moving regular e-mails filled with information like weekly performance data to an intranet, as PBD Global apparently did?


I think Intel may have come up with a logical approach. In a 2007 post from the IT@Intel blog, Nathan Zeldes said the company didn't completely do away with e-mail on Fridays. Instead it encouraged folks to focus each Friday on direct conversation-face to face or by telephone-for interpersonal communication within groups. He wrote:

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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 3, 2011 10:46 AM Nathan Zeldes Nathan Zeldes  says:

No Email Day implementations never ban all email on the chosen day. They only discourage intra-group mail - and usually allow exceptions even there; the Intel experiment drew on experience in other companies. The intent is to replace "emailing across the partition" with human speech. In fact the only case I can think of with a total ban on internal email in the group - complete with fines on violators - was at Veritas (and it was done well, with the fines going to a charity of the employees' choice and an overtone of humor over the whole thing).

Incidentally, the notion that talking to people results in "LONGER and more personal dialogues" is not universally true - a short phone call can often resolve an issue that could degenerate into an endless ping-pong of emails.

Feb 3, 2011 2:27 PM Daniel Forrester Daniel Forrester  says:

Thanks for the post Ann:  My thoughts are on my site here.   Love for you to read the book as email is just one part of my story in Consider.    My very best!  


Feb 4, 2011 1:42 PM Monic Seeley Monic Seeley  says:

Great article.

Anything which helps people think outside the email box and breaks their email addiction is worth trying.

Email free periods help you focus, be more productive and if you talk to people learn more about the organisation.

My own recent poll found that 45% of business people even felt compelled to log in on Christmas Day. see http://bit.ly/hOvwML.

Feb 4, 2011 7:50 PM Scott Dockter Scott Dockter  says:

Our company, PBD, is still using no email Fridays 4 years later.  It has been extremely successful and is a great reminder to all PBD employees that communication is more than just email.   It reinforces this concept with clients who are better served with all forms of communication, not just email.  Of course, if a client needs information on Fridays via email, no big deal.  Our policy is only for internal emails, thus the reason I am emailing you on a Friday.

I would have gladly responded to your email if you had sent one on this topic.  We seem to be one of the only companies still following what some defined at that time as a fad.  It stays relevant today due to the new youth in our workplace that aren't very familiar with communication outside of texting or email.

May 13, 2011 8:15 AM Royal Summers Royal Summers  says:

I tried the "No Action Required" and it didn't go over well with my boss.  She commented,"I got all these emails from you with 'No Action Required,' "Action Required" in the subject line.

She didn't state exactly what the problem was but she did appear a bit unsettled at my attempt to make better use of her email reading time.

Oh well, something about no good deed go unpunished comes to mind. 


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