E-MAELSTROM OFFICE MAILROOMS SENT PACKING.
REMEMBER office mail? In and out boxes? Cubbyholes with employee names? The mailroom?
Such mainstays of office life are disappearing behind an increasingly frenetic blur of electronic communication that dumps infinite volumes of data onto our computer monitors every workday.
As a result, businesses are closing mailrooms and removing mailboxes, converting the space to offices and common areas.
And if a letter needs to be sent, most companies say it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.
"If I send something physical, I really want it to be there tomorrow," said Robert Yallen, president of Inter/Media Advertising in Encino. "And if I want it there tomorrow, I'm not going to use the postal service."
Like many businesses today, Yallen said 99 percent of his agency's communication is done by e-mail. Snail mail is mostly billing-related. It trickles in and gets sorted in the accounting department.
The speed and immediacy of e-mail has also accelerated acceptable delivery times for standard paper correspondence.
Companies in various industries say waiting several days for a business letter to be delivered simply won't do. Most everything that can't be e-mailed (instant messaging isn't practical for lengthy correspondence) is sent through overnight shippers such as FedEx, DHL or Airborne Express, which negotiate corporate discounts with clients.
As for incoming mail that's not a bill or a receipt, it mostly just sits in a pile, collecting dust before it is discarded.
"I get (mailed) solicitations all the time that I never read," Yallen said.
Kevin Velligan, an investment manager at New Haven Financial Inc., a full-service mortgage banker in Calabasas, said he simply doesn't get mail anymore.
"I just don't see it," Velligan said. "We use faxes for investment communications. For prospectuses, we use FedEx."
Mark Roth, who runs a Los Angeles-based business called LifestyleOrganization.org, said he organizes a lot of underused mail spaces in offices. One recent assignment involved converting an underused mailroom into an additional office suite.
"I've never had a client who needed a whole room for mail, but I have had clients getting three or four pieces of mail who had an entire room devoted to mail," he said. "Nowadays, unless it's a studio or a huge corporation, you find less companies with mailrooms."
Even entertainment industry mailrooms, which launched the careers of mavens like David Geffen and Barry Diller, don't carry the clout they once did.
"I know we have (a mailroom), but I've never actually seen it," said Megan Porter, an executive assistant in the publicity department at NBC Universal's Burbank studio lot.
U.S. Postal Service statistics back up the perception that physical mail is a relic of yesterday's business world. The volume of first-class mail - most commonly used for business -- dropped from about 56 million pieces in 1999 to 44 million last year, according to USPS's annual report. Declining use of mail also plays into the larger trend of companies cutting paper entirely out of the workplace.
EcoMedia, an environmental marketing firm in Manhattan Beach, has set a goal to be completely paperless within one year, said Bethany Legler, office manager. That means phasing out snail mail.
"We try to do everything electronically. Even media kits are sent by e-mail," she said.
Chris McKenry, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, said these trends reflect the evolution of change in how business is done. Even though e-mail has been in use for more than a decade now, offices have learned to rely on it gradually. Now it has clearly taken over.
"People don't have the need for a mailroom or a physical filing room," said McKenry, owner of Get It All Together LA!, a professional organizing company that specializes in "paper management," among other things.
He said that 80 percent of what is filed in corporate America is never looked at again.
Snail mail rolls on
But before you convert everything to disk and set fire to all those useless files, remember that snail mail still holds its own in particular industries and certain situations.
For example, Securities and Exchange Commission regulations prohibit brokerages from sending stock quotes or trade confirmations electronically.
So Edward Jones investment office in Long Beach sends those documents to clients by first-class mail. "The post office is just behind our office," said Barbra Hamill, branch office administrator at the Viking Way location. "Every evening, I walk over and put it in the slot."
Marshall Brubacher is an attorney at Mundell, Odlum & Haws, a medium-size firm with offices in Westlake Village and San Bernardino.
He said a lot can be done on e-mail, as long as the legal disclosure about attorney-client privilege and so forth is in the body of the text.
"I don't believe you're allowed to serve someone with court papers via e-mail," he said. "You have to serve it to them."
In the marketing world, sometimes it takes words in print to really make an impact. Debbie Edwards, an independent publicist in Sherman Oaks, said she usually sends pitches electronically. But when she's sending something to a big name, she sends a letter.
"For people like the Oprahs of the world, I still send hard copies."
She said it's too easy for e-mail to wind up in the junk file. So when she does send things out electronically, she puts in a phone call, too, in case the e-mail never made it to its destination.
Yallen, the advertising executive in Encino, said there are times when electronic communication just won't cut it. Once, after pitching a new account, he wanted to send the client a follow-up to seal the deal.
"I could have sent it electronically, but they positioned themselves as having this cowboy mentality. So we built a frame with a boot that becomes a wing-tipped shoe with a plaque that said, 'From brilliant intuition to brilliant execution,'" he said. "If I had just sent something in writing, I don't think these guys would have taken notice."
E-mail traffic hit 171 billion messages per day globally in 2006, up from 135 billion at the end of 2005. Still, 70 percent of it is spam.
First-class mail volume was 44 million pieces last year, down from 56 million in 1999.
FedEx Express delivers an average of 3.3 million packages a day, up 10 percent from 2002.
Sources: Tekrati Inc., USPS, FedEx
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DELIVERY SYSTEM (see text)