E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Giving up on Work e-mail – Status Report on First Three Weeks (Part Deux)

While I am now in Zürich preparing everything and getting ready for Lotusphere Comes To You starting tomorrow (May be able to share the slide deck in Slideshare during the course of tomorrow or the day after… Stay tuned as I will try to get the audio for it as well!), I saw that the progress report post(s) from last week Friday on my fight against work e-mail has put together a bunch of very interesting comments. So I thought that instead of replying to them on the respective blog posts I would go ahead and consolidate all of the different commentary into a follow up blog post as I didn’t want those comments get lost just like that.

So without much further ado, here we go with my two cents on the input shared thus far on my progress report blog posts:

From Adam Carson‘s comments – Someone I have admired for quite some time now and who I would wish he would start his regular blogging again… Two years without blog posts is a long time, Adam!: "I was wondering if you could do a follow-up post explaining how you deal with incoming emails by responding through social media options. Can you categorize/generalize some of your incoming communications and then map them to different 2.0 tools?"

Yes, I will certainly follow up with a more extensive blog post where I would detail some more what those various social software tools may well be and how I get to use them. I will put together a brief description of each of them and how I am actually using them. But for now, I will just share some of the basics on how I actually process every single piece of work e-mail that comes my way:

An e-mail will come into my Notes 8.5 Beta, while I am running the embedded Sametime 8 for the Mac as well telling me whether that person is online or not. I will look into the e-mail and if I see that’s one of those work related e-mails that falls under the category of one-on-one private, confidential / sensitive conversations I will reply back through e-mail and keep the dialogue private. If not, never reply to it!, and if the person is online in Sametime (i.e. Instant Messaging with some more powerful social networking capabilities I will detail some time soon as well!), I would right click on their name, start a chat, check availability and provide the answer. E-mail will get archived or deleted, accordingly.

If the person is not available on line in Instant Messaging, I will check whether I am connected with that person or not on some of the various social software tools I use. Handy tip in here is how most people include those online social software tools in their closing info or e-mail signature to promote their online spaces. I take advantage of that and go into their online social networking tools and drop the answer there. So whether it is Lotus Quickr, Lotus Connections (And its various components, specially Dogear and Activities), Wikis, Blogs, Beehive, BlueTwit (Think Twitter here, but incredibly much more stable), Forums, etc. etc. you name it, I just go ahead and share the reply of my e-mail there. Again e-mail gets archived / deleted accordingly.

Like I said, I follow a specific logic on processing the replies to those e-mails and the last few lines above would give you an idea of how I am doing it. In another specific blog post I will continue to develop further on the overall approach. One thing for sure, to comment further on the last questions from Adam, although I am not doing any categorisation of the replies to them chose a specific social software tool, I do actually always think about the reply and where could I share where it would have the highest impact, not just for the original sender of the e-mail, but for the entire company. That way, it would save me time next time I get that same question again. Chances are that folks would probably try to search for something before heading my way, in which case sharing that content in such 2.0 manner will certainly be worth while quite a bit! But again, at a later time I will expand further some more on this, including a much more descriptive account of the several tools I use…

From Joe Chacko‘s comments (One of my fellow IBM colleagues): "We have taken a similar approach to one particular part-time project. All communications will be via a Wiki or a (logged) IRC channel. One huge benefit is that all conversations are publicly documented and retrievable."

This surely is a fantastic piece of news and something that over the course of the last three weeks (When I started this fight against work e-mail) has been rather remarkable as well! Why? Because from the very first moment that I went public saying that I would no longer be replying to open, public conversations through e-mail, I keep getting contacted by plenty of other folks, both inside and outside of the company, saying that they have been experimenting with it to some degree and have been enjoying some really good results. This surely is very encouraging and one of the things I also wanted to bring forward from this approach: i. e. the more we get the word out, the more folks would jump in, and therefore benefit from adopting and embracing social software.

Mind you, very important thing here, I am NOT saying that e-mail is dead. On the contrary, I think it’s about time to re-purpose how we work with e-mail and how we may need to keep things the way they were meant to be in the beginning: e-mail as a one-on-one private / sensitive / confidential conversation. For the rest, bring forward those conversations out in the open and let the rest of the knowledge workers benefit from your knowledge, skills and expertise on a wider level, i.e. corporate level!

Remember those very wise words from Bob Buckman?: "Don’t be afraid to share what you know, because you know it better than anyone else!" That’s exactly what I am after!

From Joitske Hulsebosch‘s comments: "I wonder though- email is just a useful tool- why would you want to get rid of ALL mails?? and do you have a few social network sites you visit daily? is that not replacing one with the other?"

Well, I am not saying that I would be getting rid of ALL e-mails, although I wish I could. What I am just saying, and I briefly mentioned it above already, is that I think it’s about time we re-purpose the way we work with e-mail. Don’t take me wrong. It is a very good communication tool, no doubt, but we would all have to admit also how it is a very poor and inefficient way of collaborating and sharing knowledge for various different reasons: lack of visibility, openness, mail capacity, enforced control, etc. etc. So to me in the current stage of things, and thanks to social software for the most part, I think that e-mail should just be used for one-on-one private conversations where information of a sensitive nature needs to be exchanged.

For the rest, let’s move the conversation to the open, public online social computing spaces, within, and beyond, the corporate firewall! Yes, that is right. I do have a list of favourite social software tools that I use on a regular basis and in a way they are starting to substitute my mail (Finally!!) and all I am seeing at the moment are just advantages: total visibility and openness, lack of control (Specially command and control), boosting knowledge shared, improving expertise location, finding information when you need it, not when the system tells you otherwise, etc. etc. These are to me some of the reasons why it makes sense to me to move into the social software world both inside and outside of the corporate firewall.

I am also working already on another blog post, where I am detailing some of the main benefits from a knowledge worker perspective and also from an enterprise perspective. Stay tuned!

From John Smart‘s comments: "Are you counting all emails, or are you not counting ‘pointer’ emails like automated alerts that you receive from sites when someone else updates something?"

No, I am not counting all e-mails. All of those "pointer" emails like automated alerts, a.k.a. bacn, I actually delete them right away through filtering by making use of various rules, since by the time I get those notifications via e-mail I already have received similar ones through my RSS / Atom feed reader. The last three weeks my feed readers have been instrumental in helping me speed the access to the right sources of information, scan through what I need to do, and what I need to read and what needs to be deleted that in a way my feed reader has become my new inbox. But with a huge difference, in my opinion, and that is that all of those different feeds coming through are from items that are publicly available to everyone and much more accessible than what would happen with e-mail.

Plus one other major difference. With my RSS / Atom feed reader, I am back in control of what I would want to get involved and notified about, whereas with e-mail, I am no longer in control. It is actually the e-mail system taking over. And the fact that e-mail has been rather addictive for plenty of us is a indicative sign of what I am mentioning over here. We need to get out of the vicious circle: the more e-mail we send, the more e-mail we get!!

From Mike Kaviscomments: "I get over a hundred emails a day. After reading your first article on this topic, I mandated to my team that for our SOA Center of Excellence (CoE) initiatives, we could not use a single email. I had the remind the team a few times the first day. Since then we have collaborated mostly in our wiki, face to face, and through our blogs. This has been great so far!"

What a great story shared by Mike, where you can see that you don’t need to start with anything big; starting small and building up from there would work. Yes, you may need to remind a few folks here and there to move away from e-mail, but that’s not a problem. You know in the end they will be joining you and start consolidating some of those conversations. Then once they see it all happening and sharing the huge benefits, they are so sold on it, they would not want to go back! That is just what Mike’s story is about. A little bit of convincing, facilitation, patience, perseverance and before you know it, you are there! And, like I said, for good! Once you give it a try for, say, a week or two, and you get to see the immediate benefits, there is just no way back!

And, finally, from Samuel Driessen‘s comments: "Interesting you’re also apply this to your external email!"

Yes, that is right. Although not doing it on purpose, since I don’t get many public conversations coming my way through e-mail anyway, I am starting to notice how I am beginning to drive away myself from e-mail and into various social software tools. Next step for me would probably be to detail what are some of the social software tools I use outside of the corporate firewall, in order to stay away from e-mail… Stay tuned! That would be the story of another blog post.

For now, I just wanted to give folks who commented on the blog post(s) a chance to share their opinions as part of a main blog entry, and then share my two cents hoping to inspire some more people out there to give it a try. Yes, I know, start small, be patient, persevere, hang in there … and make it happen! Remember that it is up to us to get out of the vicious circle. Are we ready?

(Oh, in the mean time, check out as well Techcrunch’s recent blog post talking about something along these very same lines… Kind of makes you wonder, don’t you think? …)

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