STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you're like a lot of people, the first thing you'll do when you get to work today is check your e-mail.

(Soundbite of e-mail alert)

INSKEEP: And consider how many times this sound...

(Soundbite of e-mail alert)

INSKEEP: ...will interrupt something that you're working on today.

(Soundbite of e-mail alert)

INSKEEP: If you heard that sound and involuntarily turned toward the computer, imagine going the whole day without reading or sending a single e-mail. That's what employees at a Chicago-based wireless communications company do every Friday. They'll do it today. As NPR's David Schaper has the next part of our weeklong series on...

(Soundbite of e-mail alert)

INSKEEP: ...e-mail.

DAVID SCHAPER: You know those annual employee satisfaction surveys when the boss is asked what can they do to make your work life better? U.S. Cellular does that, and about three years ago employees told vice president and chief operating officer Jay Ellison they were getting too many e-mails. Ellison responded by banning e-mails on Fridays.

Mr. JAY ELLISON (U.S. Cellular): I got a lot pushback from a lot of people that I was nuts, they have to operate that way. And I pushed right back on them. I respect that, you know, pushback, but I heard the associates were going to try this.

SCHAPER: Ellison said the company tried it for two-and-a-half months and everyone loved it, even those who first didn't like the idea.

Mr. ELLISON: I think people would outright, you know, just freak out if we started e-mails back up on Friday. I know the frontline leadership would scream. I'd have a mutiny on my hands.

SCHAPER: The policy is a little bit loose. Nobody gets fired for sending e-mails on Fridays, and for urgent matters if e-mail is the best way to communicate something, by all means employees can send them. And they don't find their inboxes overstuffed on Monday mornings.

But Jay Ellison says the idea is for people to talk to one another, converse and collaborate more. And along the way some staffers, like executive John Coyle, made some amazing discoveries. Coyle says one Friday he was about to send an e-mail to a colleague in finance whom he had never met but he called him instead.

Mr. JOHN COYLE (U.S. Cellular): He goes, hey, I see from the extension you're in Madison. I'm like, well, yeah, but you're in Chicago, right? He goes, no, I'm in Madison too. I'm like, oh really, where? He said on the fourth floor. And I said I'm on the fourth floor. I said where do you sit? And he said in the southwest corner. And I'm like, I'm in the south side of the building so that means you're about 50 feet from me. And I literally got up, I walked around the corner and there he was. I had no idea.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

SCHAPER: I'm walking around the cubicles of the U.S. Cellular Chicago headquarters seeing if I can catch anyone sneaking a peek in their inbox or sending some funny chain e-mails. It's not happening here. What's happening is that people here like to be released from their e-mail jails once a week. They're actually spending more time walking around talking face-to-face.

Hi. I see that you guys are kind of congregating here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHAPER: Is that because you would normally be sending e-mails to have this conversation but you're talking to each other face-to-face?

Ms. CHERYL HANDLEY (U.S. Cellular): We just seem to chat a lot.

SCHAPER: Cheryl Handley works in customer strategy and marketing.

Ms. HANDLEY: Well, maybe that's a function of the Friday no e-mails, but I think we do enjoy just getting together and talking a lot more.

SCHAPER: Handley's colleague, Robin Stitches, says discussing ideas and problems face-to-face is much more productive.

Ms. ROBIN STITCHES: We've been talking here for about 15 minutes and it's been really good. We're talking about ideas, brainstorming. So definitely more effective than, you know, shooting emails back and forth to each other.

SCHAPER: And you are?

Mr. STEVE DECASPRAS(ph) (U.S. Cellular): I'm Steve Decaspras. I'm also on the customer strategy and planning team.

SCHAPER: Um-hum.

Mr. DECASPRAS: I've actually gone so far as to implement my own no-e-mail Wednesdays and Thursdays as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DECASPRAS: So I'm not in communication with anybody during the last half of the week.

SCHAPER: He's joking, of course, and U.S. Cellular employees say e-mail does have its critical place in their work. They are after all in the business of selling us on wireless communications, including e-mail - just don't e-mail them about that on a Friday.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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