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An E-Mail Vacation: Taking Fridays Off

Can you go a day at the office without e-mail? Employees at U.S. Cellular try to do that every Friday. A policy implemented a few years ago gives workers a respite from the e-mail avalanche.

U.S. Cellular Vice President and COO Jay Ellison says his ban on Friday e-mails at the Chicago-based company came after he heard complaints from employees. But it wasn't a cakewalk.

"I got a lot of push-back from a lot of people that I was nuts they'd have to operate that way, and I pushed back on them," Ellison said. "I respect that push-back," he told them. "But I heard the associates; we're going to try this."

Ellison says the company tried it for two and a half months, and everyone loved it — even those who didn't like the idea at first.

"I think people would outright just freak out if we started e-mails back up on Friday," Ellison said. "I know the front-line leadership would scream; I'd have a mutiny on my hands."

Ellison says the idea is for employees to talk to one another and collaborate more. Along the way, some staffers, like executive John Coyle, have made some amazing discoveries.

Coyle says that one Friday, he was about to send an e-mail to a colleague in the finance department whom he had never met. But he called him instead.

That's when the two realized they had similar phone numbers — meaning that not only were they in the same town, but in the same building.

"I'm like, 'Oh, really, where?' He said, 'On the fourth floor,' " Coyle remembers. "And I said, 'I'm on the fourth floor.' "

After more details were exchanged, "I literally got up, walked around the corner and there he was. I had no idea."

U.S. Cellular employees say that e-mail does have a critical place in their work — after all, they are in the business of selling wireless communications, including e-mail.

Just don't e-mail them about that on a Friday.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.