- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2001

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Employees at a liquor distributor here shed their dependence on Internet communication on the last day of each workweek, along with their jackets and ties, high heels and pantyhose.
Last summer, David Dearie declared that the 26 staffers working for him in the Brown-Forman Corp.'s international wines division would observe what has come to be called e-mail-free Friday.
Violators face a $10 fine.
"It's been difficult at times, but it has worked," said Mr. Dearie, senior vice president and managing director for Brown-Forman Wines International. "If we receive an e-mail on a Friday, we pick up the phone and talk with whoever sent it."
Mr. Dearie, 40, insists he's not against technology, though he acknowledges missing the days when the daily post brought letters with the junk mail. He just wants to make sure his workers mix some personal communication with their electronic interaction.
The Friday ban applies to messages sent outside the office, too.
"We've forgotten how personal a call can be and how much people enjoy receiving telephone calls and a real, live voice," Mr. Dearie said.
Recent studies have shown American workers spend about 50 minutes a day reading and sending some 3.4 billion business e-mails. Mr. Dearie said it is not uncommon for him to return from an overseas trip to find 500 messages waiting in his electronic mailbox.
Cezary Wlodarczyk, who is a marketing manager in the division, spent six years in Mexico and worked in one of the company's smaller offices in Florida. When he came to Louisville two years ago, he said he was surprised at how much business is done by e-mail.
"I knew this person's name on the fifth floor from e-mails," but it was a year before they actually met, he said. "Then it was, 'Oh, you're that person.'"
Mr. Dearie said his wife, Macarena, inspired the idea. He was musing about an e-mail for his staff to congratulate them for a good quarter. She suggested he phone them.
"I came into the office on Friday morning, picked up the phone and called every single one of the employees, said 'well done' on the first-quarter results. The response was incredible. People were saying the managing director had never called before to thank them for their hard work and effort. It took me less than a half-hour to call around and say thanks."
He doesn't anticipate expanding the concept. E-mail is "an incredibly efficient tool for sending information among large groups of people," he said. "We're just saying, for that one day a week, we're trying to get back to old-fashioned verbal communication."

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