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

From the blog

Can Social Tools Really Replace Email? – They Already Are! (Part II)

As I have mentioned in a previous blog post this is Part II from the series of blog posts put together as a follow up from the various reactions from the Lifehacker blog post Can Social Tools Really Replace Email? This time around focusing on four different comments from various folks that I would try to explain further how they affect to my new reality of giving up on e-mail, that is, corporate e-mail. Thus without much further ado, let’s get things started; I will be grabbing excerpts from each of the conversations and adding further up into each of them. Here we go:

"[…] However, after thinking it through – he’s really just replacing one tool, with several others – and imposing unwanted disciplines on his clients."

No, I am not replacing one tool with a bunch of others. What I am actually doing for the last five months is re-purposing all of the interactions that were coming through to my e-mail inbox and shifted most of them outside of my own inbox, specially when the nature of those conversations is a public and open one so that other knowledge workers have got the opportunity to help contribute just as much as I would. Then those one-on-one e-mails where confidential or sensitive information gets discussed are still going through my mail box in the usual way. That’s the only instance that gets processed through regular e-mail.

"… imposing unwanted disciplines on his clients?" is an interesting comment. One which some folks may be agreeing with, but to which I am going to reply "Who is imposing what to whom?" Am I getting imposed as well having to go through my inbox to process those e-mails? I mean, just because you like and are using e-mail to reach out to me does not necessarily mean that I have to like or use e-mail as well as a method of engagement. In most cases, it is all about finding a common denominator where we would all be able to collaborate.

For a good number of years most knowledge workers didn’t have the option, nor the choice, for good collaborative tools, but nowadays with the emergence of social software within the corporate world the choice is there. And we might as well make use of it, so just because folks may be sending an e-mail does not necessarily mean I would want to engage through e-mail as well. The choice is there. The choice is from both parties to negotiate & jointly decide what’s the best way of collaborating and sharing our knowledge not just amongst ourselves, but also with the rest of the corporation. And perhaps e-mail is not the best option here.

I know this may sound more complex than what it actually is, because in most cases that negotiation and choice is something that happens inherently when both parties get together through real-time collaboration, like IM, or whatever other social computing tool, and co-jointly decide what’s the best way to share the information. I have yet to see the first person from the hundreds of interactions I have carried out over the last few months who only uses e-mail to process every single conversation they get involved with. It just doesn’t happen anymore. The reality of the 21st business is completely different to what may have been in the early 90s, for instance.

"[…] this whole inbox zero is an illusion of productivity. just because you have no emails doesn’t mean you’re more on top of your life."

An illusion of productivity? On the contrary! Over the last five months it has been an incredibly boost of my own productivity, that of my team(s), the communities I belong to, and the company as a whole. Why? Because I no longer have the stress of constantly having to check e-mail; the flow of the conversations is out in the open available to everyone else to contribute as well; it is no longer me the only one who can action something, my social networks can help chime in and contribute with their two cents; most of the knowledge that I can contribute with is now available to my immediate teams and communities, and, as such, the entire company, not locked down in one of my mail archives waiting to be deleted and never to be checked out again!

Yes, I may be getting much more heavily involved with the various social networking spaces that I get to hang out in, but that is a decision I have made for myself and rather consciously. Why? Because I am part of each of those different social networks. And I would want to contribute into nurturing those relationships, getting to know the various connections, helping out where I may possibly can, feeling part of the network who is already passionate about a specific topic, i.e. the same one(s) I am passionate about myself.

But here is the thing. All of those interactions I may be doing now are eventually going to pay off really really big time in its due time, when I am not there. When I am away, on holidays, on conference events, off sick, whatever. More than anything else because people from those social networks will help contribute and help me get those answers, without me even being there! Just like I have been doing myself for them when they were not there! That is the ultimate power of the social network! Yes, indeed, what some folks would call crowdsourcing! But one where you would be contributing in exactly the same terms as everyone else and still feel part of it big time!

And believe me, it is not an illusion to come back from an extended vacation and find out that your inbox is ZERO. No e-mails to process. No need to be attached, while on vacation, to your mobile device to cut down on the final number of e-mails you need to process, so that when you arrive home it’s easier to catch up with the sheer volume! Just get back to work from day one, and already knowing the job has been done and it’s time for you to catch up with whatever the community has been involved with. I am not sure what you folks would think, but that, to me, is no illusion of productivity, but my own reality for the last five months and counting! And it can be yours, too!

"What struck me about this article was that the author was imposing his needs and his priorities over other people’s. I like email because I can answer it on my own schedule. If I’m really "in the zone" and working on a project, I don’t check my email until I’m done. […] The author of this article is choosing not to use email, but instead, he’s imposing his interruptions on all of his coworkers, whether they want them or not."

The first sentence from this particular comment was rather interesting and thought provoking. I am sure you would agree with that. Imposing my needs and priorities over other people’s when I am the one who is getting contacted to have his knowledge shared for whatever the specific task? Imposing my needs when I am going to provide the answer much faster, much better, and reaching out to the entire corporate bringing it out in the open? How is that going to have me impose whatever on the other peers? Wouldn’t it be quite the opposite? Let’s see that with an example.

Let’s say that I am working on a particular task from my various project activities and all of a sudden I get an e-mail from someone wanting to have an answer on a specific question. The interruption is there already, to get things started. Yes, I may not check it out right away and only when it is at my own convenience, but it is still an interruption, so it eventually is going to take me a little while to reply back because it will get added to my list of tasks to do and, of course, it’s going to have its own priority. In most cases several days after and perhaps when the individual does no longer need it anymore because they found their way through other means.

Here is the example of what I normally do. I am working on a specific task and someone would contact me through e-mail asking for some information. It’s an interruption, indeed, but since it is an interruption whether I can judge whether I can help or not within the first 15 seconds I fire up IM & get back to that person sharing with them the answer right there, right then. What is the first reaction from people you would think? Which of the two scenarios you would go for as the person sending the request? Wouldn’t you want to have the answer as soon as you possibly can so that you can move on? I know I would!

Here is the thing, I have been doing that for the last five months and most of the reactions I have received back have been along the lines of "Oh, thanks a lot for the prompt response! Appreciated", which means that they themselves never expected to have an answer so soon! Points won here, indeed! And it gets better, because the second reaction you are provoking with such interactions is that the next time that same person needs something they would remember how fast you have been using IM vs. e-mail and therefore will only send you IMs from there onwards! One less person sending you e-mails! 🙂 Next …

In a world where interactions through collaboration and knowledge sharing are taking place faster than ever, it is time for us to adapt ourselves to the new demands and interact accordingly. Of course, not every single e-mail should be processed like this, but then again not every e-mail deserves to wait there for ages before getting a reply. Thus if you can help contribute fix a problem as soon as you possibly can why not go ahead and do it and then move on to the next thing? That’s what I have been doing all along during this time and it has worked wonders! In multiple various different ways, too!

And, finally, I would like to conclude quoting the comment from one of the folks commenting on the Lifehacker blog which I think would be a very nice wrap up of the conversations that have taken place in that particular article and which I feel describe very nicely why I have given up on work related e-mail and moved a large chunk of those conversations into the social computing world. And, not to worry, even if I weren’t a social computing evangelist at IBM I would still be feeling exactly the same way and would be working in the same way. Do you want to try me out? Want to hire me to see if I would be able to do it or not? 😉 Here is why:

"We just started using Confluence wiki at our company as a corporate collaboration / knowledge base tool, and so far it has been very cool. Adoption is slowly gaining ground, you just have to convince people that it is better to create content in the wiki for all to see and edit rather than using Word and emailing it ’round and ’round for updates.

Wikis certainly won’t replace email, but for many tasks it provides a better solution. With email, the content of the messages is eventually lost or hard to find (and only by those in the email chain). With a wiki, the information is captured for all to see and revise, and becomes a living document. Good stuff in the corporate world."

(That comment, coincidentally was shared by Michael Kizer, who then points to this particular blog E2.0H, where you can read some really good stuff on Enterprise 2.0 and Enterprise social software adoption and between that comment and a few of the entries I have been reading there here I am subscribed to another good blog doing some really cool things on the Enterprise 2.0 space. Now would I have been able to find about that using e-mail? Probably, but I bet you that it would have taken me quite a substantial amount of time to reach the same goal. Yet, here I am, enjoying some really good reading and ready for another wonderful and relaxing weekend (Without e-mail!) where I am finally going to meet up one of the folks who I have been following for several years: Stephen Downes. He is here in Gran Canaria on holidays and we are going to have dinner tonight and catch up with one another. It’s about time!

Now would e-mail have been able to enable that? … I doubt it!

Have a good one everyone!)

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