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

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Giving up on Work e-mail – Status Report on Week 24 (Six Months On!)

After a really good workshop event last week in Madrid on Enterprise 2.0 & Social Computing (I am already drafting a post on it to share the various experiences), here I am, once again, back at my regular blogging activities, just like I have been doing lately. But perhaps this time around with a bit more of excitement, more than anything else because it is time again for another weekly update on my progress report of giving up on e-mail, i.e. corporate e-mail. And this one is going to be a special one…

If you would remember, On February 15th, that is, about six months ago, I decided to make the blunt move of announcing in all of my blogs, both internal and external, that I would no longer be using e-mail, corporate e-mail,  that is, in order to collaborate and share knowledge with my fellow colleagues. Instead I would be making extensive use of social computing and social networking tools in order to be just as productive, if not more!

Yes, that’s right! Last week marked the 24th week in a row that I have been enjoying this new reality of mine where most of my interactions while at work are happening through the usage of social software versus the good old e-mail. From the very beginning there have been a couple of reactions that have walked hand in hand throughout all of this time and which I thought I would be mentioning over here as well. First, there were the folks who thought I have gone crazy for abandoning and not using such a pervasive and easy to use tool as e-mail, and that I would give up on this experiment in like no time; and then, secondly, there were those folks who were very much supportive of what I was trying to do (And prove!) and therefore had plenty of positive reactions, specially from a bunch of folks who wanted to learn from my experiences all along and throughout the entire time and see how they could apply them for their own needs.

Six months ago I decided to give up on e-mail, indeed! And I cannot believe that the time has gone by so quick and without me hardly noticing. But that has been the case and if you have been following the different experiences I have blogged on the topic in the past it surely has been a blast all along! No doubt about it! As an example, and thanks to such a blunt move at work, I have been able to travel in this time many more times than in the eleven years I have been in IBM altogether!!

Funny thing is that despite those six months having gone by already, plenty of folks out there still think that I gave up on corporate e-mail because I had issues with time management, an overloaded Inbox, mail quotas exceeded on a repeated and regular basis, etc. etc. Most folks think that to me e-mail is dead with the emergence of social networking tools. Well, nothing further than the truth, I am afraid. I have never said that e-mail is dead. On the contrary, everyone would agree with me that it is still very much alive and kicking! And I would agree with that statement, too!

What I am just saying, and I have been saying that now for over six months, is that e-mail is, probably, not the best of tools out there to encourage open, public & transparent collaboration and knowledge sharing activities amongst knowledge workers and as such, six months ago I decided to stop using e-mail for such tasks. No more collaboration and knowledge sharing through e-mail. Only thing that I would still handle via e-mail would be what I have been mentioning already quite a bit: one on one private conversations where the subject matter is of a sensitive or confidential nature. For the rest everything else is going out there, in the open, readily available for everyone else, not just me, to chime in and engage accordingly. That would be the case when we can then talk about Collaboration, with a capital C.

And I can honestly say that it has been quite a ride, since I got started with this movement! So much so that plenty of folks have been blogging quite a bit on the topic (Currently compiling a blog post I will be putting together with a good bunch of these links, apart from the extended commentary I am making myself on some of the most relevant and insightful ones!); some of them have started similar initiatives like the one I am following over here, and as a result of such move I have been travelling quite a bit all over the world, including as well the publication on some of the most relevant online mainstream publications, if you would remember. Quite a blast, indeed!

I am sure that by now you may be wondering what the results have been from last week, right? From week 24. Well, I thought I would go ahead and share those results with you over here:

As you would be able to see, there seems to be a trend changing over here, because for the first time in a long while the number of e-mails has decreased substantially on the first three days of the week, while it peeked really high on Thursday & Friday last week, which means that I would need to look into it more carefully and see how the different patterns may well change or adapt over the next couple of weeks, specially if you look into the last two days where there has been a massive increase compared to previous weeks! Not particularly excited about it at the moment, since it looks like today I have been going through a similar count of incoming e-mails as in last week. We shall have to wait and see how much of this becomes a trend, or not, but it surely is going to be quite interesting.

However, for now, and to wrap up this special blog post and the weekly progress report for week 24, I thought I would reference a blog post that my good friend Dave Pollard blogged about just after I created the previous weekly report, i.e. for week 23. It is one of those blog posts that you are, I am certain, going to find rather controversial and thought-provoking, yet very much realistic, and I must say that if it were down to me, it would be something that I would try, first as a pilot, for about one week, and if successful, and I am sure it would, I would be implementing it all over the place for an extended period of time. Yes, that kind of impact on how the corporate world would be functioning from then onwards!

The title of the blog post is "Memorandum to All Employees" and it comes to share with you a letter by which from August 1st 2008 knowledge workers working at whatever the company would no longer be making use of e-mail to collaborate and share their knowledge. They would have to make use of other more open and public (social software) tools. Here is another tease just to share with you what Dave is up to:

"Please note that, in addition to face-to-face appointments, phone calls and Calendar bookings, there are a number of other technologies available for communications:

1. For simple, unambiguous, straightforward requests for information, approval, appointments or instructions, and replies to such requests, you can use the company’s Instant Messaging system. The system should not be used for more complicated matters — if it takes a respondent more than one minute to reply, it is an inappropriate use of this technology.

2. For conversations that cannot occur face-to-face and which require looking at documents together, you can use the company’s Desktop Video & Screen-Sharing system. This tool requires no pre-booking and can allow users to ‘share’ the contents of each other’s screen while they converse.

3. For ‘FYI’ type communications, the documents should be posted to the appropriate category of the company’s E-Library, where those interested in the document who have subscribed to it by RSS will automatically receive notification about it. If you think someone should subscribe to a category they are not subscribed to, suggest this through an Instant Message.

4. For surveys, where you are seeking consensus, in those rare cases where a face-to-face brainstorming is not a much more effective means of achieving it, you can use the company’s Instant Survey tool.

5. For group training or sending of instructions to a large number of people, you can use the company’s E-Learning tool for asynchronous training, or, if interactivity is expected, the company’s Desktop Video & Screen-Sharing system for real-time events."

Fascinating read, eh? The blog post goes on further with plenty of gems to share with others, just like the ones I quoted above. And the commentary, although, not too many, surely shows an interest of having such policy implemented. And at this point in time, I am not sure about what you would think, but I would be more than happy to take Dave’s letter and comply with it. How about you? Do you think you would be able to quite using e-mail from August 1st?  Would you ever be willing to do such thing and leave your comfort zone? Would it be worth it for you as well as it has been for folks like myself, ever since I got things started?

What would it take to your company / business to run, say, for a day, or, even better, for an entire week, without making use of corporate e-mail? Do you think you could survive? And if so, why haven’t you done it then? What’s stopping you? … Want to join us? 🙂

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