Email in the workplace is credited for both increasing productivity — and hindering it. Most of us groan about hours and hours of answering email, and analysis shows that most communication that happens via email is unproductive. In 2010, organizations lost about $1,250 per user a year in productivity due to spam, and up to $4,100 per year due to emails which were written poorly.

However, as the Economic Development Administration recently discovered, it is not so easy to get by without email either. A computer virus took out the agency’s entire computer network for a total of 81 days, forcing employees to rely on fax and ‘snail mail’ for paper communications. Though workers at the agency found ways around the lack of email, they did find it challenging.

Jerry Rhoads, co-founder at MobyApp, challenged the GovLoop community to consider a workplace without email. Rhoads noted that a European company, ATOS, has recently banned internal emails, replacing it with an instant messenger.

“Have you ever asked a co-worker or direct report if they have followed up on a request, only to be told ‘I sent an Email?’ Do you think this is good reason to ban or limit email in the workplace?”

Henry Brown, a federal retiree, noted that changing the line of communication won’t necessarily solve the problem:

“Instead of banning or limiting email, train the users on how to use the tool to be more productive. The solution is not to replace it with an instant messenger – I suspect that they will end up with the same issues. I have been around long enough to observe the mindset that the problem of people spending all day on the phone can be solved by giving everyone email, which just shifted the problem to another medium.”

Former federal leader David Dejewski pointed out that social media platforms may also be used to replace email for collaborative projects:

“Email has a valid place. Social media boards – like milBook – can be more powerful in situations where sharing and version control are issues. We used it successfully to reduce more than 60% of email traffic. I think tools like this will capture some of email’s market share over time.”

Social Media and Web Content Manager for FEMA Savannah Brehmer recommended limits to how much email can be used by employees:

“I was impressed by a colleague who has a size limit for e-mails sent to his inbox. If it is too big, you get an e-mail back telling you to send a link to the large file. I think this would help reduce file duplication tremendously, and should become a standard practice. One possible solution I’ve thought about is limiting e-mails sent and e-mails received per day to 20. Under that restraint, people might be more mindful about hitting the send button.”

Email was also noted as potentially indicative of larger organizational problems. Some workers may send an email and use that as an excuse for failing to follow-up with a colleague. In the end it might be people, not email, that leads to lack of productivity, suggested Sherry Taylor, a County Procurement Associate said:

“It seems like a trust issue. And if you don’t send the report by email, how do you send it in your organization? Managing employees is a larger issue than emails.”

About the author: Corey McCarren is a GovLoop Graduate Fellow and a graduate of the State University of New York, College at Oneonta, having majored in Political Science and Communication Studies.