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 25 (Educating Your Collaborators!)

Seeing how things are starting to fall back into place, once again, (Google Search is my friend again! W00t!!), I thought today I would resume my regular blogging activities, after last week’s hiccup, with another update on my weekly progress report of giving up e-mail. It’s been a couple of weeks since I last blogged about it and think it is a good time now to catch up with what’s been happening. Specially after having reached the sixth month in a row without engaging with other knowledge workers through corporate e-mail and hitting another milestone on my new reality of making much heavier use of social software versus e-mail to collaborate and share more knowledge.

Thus here we go. Week 25th. And here is the milestone that you would be able to see from the actual progress report I have been sharing on my Flickr account and for which I am really excited about, as you will be able to see:

Yes, that is right! Week 25th has marked a new low on the number of incoming e-mails throughout the course of the week! 22 e-mails received! 22, indeed! You can imagine how excited I am about the whole thing. Since week after week, month after month, the incoming number of e-mails is reducing quite a bit from when I first got things started! And this week is just another example! I am kind of wondering whether there would be a time I could keep that count below 15 e-mails a week. I guess that’s my next challenge!

Either way, for now, and to celebrate such a huge achievement I would also want to comment on a blog post that a good friend of mine, Stowe Boyd, shared a little while ago, and which escaped me first time around. But, oh, the wonders of the Internet blogosphere!, I am back at it again! Go and have a read into "Luis Suarez: I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip".

In it, Stowe references the NYTimes article I published a few weeks back and comes to question what I have been doing all along over the last few months with some additional extended commentary that I thought I would share my two cents on top of to keep adding further up into the conversation. Thus here we go:

"But I am left waiting for the other shoe to drop: what’s the skinny, Luis? You did it, but what was it like, qualitatively?"

I could share dozens and dozens of items on what it has meant for me to eventually move away from corporate e-mail and instead engage through social software to increase my collaborative and knowledge sharing efforts. However, going to try to keep it short. So I will mention that my main key benefits from making such jump have been to no longer feel stranded in the e-mail world, having tasks delegated on to you, just because you have the information / knowledge. I no longer have the pressure of having to constantly keep up with the incoming flow of e-mails of which a good chunk of them I wouldn’t even need to get them in the first place! I no longer sense I have lost control of my own productivity while helping others get their tasks done. I no longer feel it is me against them and the corporation. Them sending e-mails across more and more by the day, me, attempting to address them all and try to finish with a zero inbox, which almost never happened!

Nowadays, it is a much more open and collaborative set of interactions whether BOTH parties get to participate in mutual terms addressing those tasks that need finishing up. It is a collaborative task at hand, which means that both parties equally engage in the completion of those tasks. There is a mutual and  inclusive negotiation in choosing the right tool to achieve the right task at the right time using the right context. It is all part of that collaboration flavour where you no longer feel it is you against them, but more you AND them together, jointly co-working on finishing up whatever task. That, to me, is what it’s been qualitative, but so much more! (I would develop further more on it in upcoming blog posts… Stay tuned!)

"If he had 212 emails per day before, how many additional phone calls, IMs and social app messages did he create/receive? Is it only sustainable for a few weeks? What’s the deep narrative? It feels like a dog walking: it’s not that the dog walks so well, but that he can do it at all."

I wasn’t getting over 200 e-mails a day, to be honest, it was more along the lines of 35 to 40 a day, which for someone who has been rather active in the social software space already for over five years is not too bad, I suppose. But Stowe, indeed, is accurate in saying that the number of other new interactions in the 2.0 space increased and substantially. But, like I have mentioned already, I am quite all right with this. I was expecting it. I was demanding it. And you know why? Because all of those interactions are taking place out in the open, transparent to everyone and without me having a chance to hide.

On the contrary, I would be out there, actively engaging with the rest of the communities and social networks I hang out with, which then makes me even much more productive because we share our workload together, as part of that trusting bond existing within members of a community, and therefore have got the opportunity to help one another in open social spaces where we can see what the workload is like and how we can compensate it, if there is a need for it. Something that e-mail doesn’t give you. Not now, not ever. It is a closed, restricted system where only a few benefit from that exchange of info and always very limited. So unless it opens up its doors to some serious innovation, it will always remain the same way.

Oh, and like you have been seeing all along, this is not something that has been sustainable for only a couple of weeks. No, this is already gone through week 27 and still going strong! And like I have mentioned a few times already, not planning on giving up now. And here is a final quote from Stowe that already identifies some of the reasons as to why I am keen on pushing things further and how I am eventually making it happen:

"What happens, Luis, if everyone does it? How will companies react? If people expect you to respond to email and you aren’t there, what should their expectation be?

My belief is that people have to move to something else, explicitly, not just leave email behind. Something like

Please contact me through IM for anything work related, my colleagues: I am reserving email for communication with the outside world, who may not have access to my IM handle (although I intend to put it on my business card instead of an email address)."

Although my Out of Office notice doesn’t have anything coming closer to that, I believe that I have managed to achieve something very similar by trying to address a single issue that most corporations have ignored for decades and which, to me, is going to be the key factor towards a successful adoption of social computing and social software tools within the enterprise: Education! (With a capital E!).

Education not only on how to re-purpose your e-mail inbox, so that NOT everything that you get exposed to goes through your e-mail before it leaves your computer; education not only on how to identify the task at hand and what other collaborative and knowledge sharing tools that may be available, but education from the perspective of spending some time with those colleagues who you get to interact with to show them, by walking them hand in hand, how to get the most out of these new emerging technologies.

There is a great chance that in most cases you wouldn’t need to spend too much time, because most of these social software tools are already relatively easy to use, much easier than plenty of other collaboration and knowledge sharing tools, so most of the times you would just need to spend some time with those folks explaining to them how you make use of them to achieve certain common tasks they themselves get exposed to; and since they can then relate to them, because they would surely impact the way they work, it would make it stick for them, which is what would help them make the switch. Just because you, that one who wants to get folks exposed to those open social spaces, decided to spend some time ahead of the interactions on how to make effective use of those tools, as opposed to the always easy method of sending an e-mail.

Yes, I know that plenty of you would say that it is going to be a time consuming effort, where plenty of energy will be invested, but then again I always wonder if it would be a lot less than having to work through an e-mail thread of several dozens of feedback comments, with their multiple copies of the same attachment and you trying to make sense of it all. Don’t you think that would be substantially easier in the long run?

I surely hope so, and that’s what I have been doing all along. All of those folks who I get to interact with I negotiate with them the best option to engage with one another, and if they are not familiar with the specific suggestion(s) I may be making, then I take the effort to educate them on those tools, to show them they, too, can benefit from them from the very first moment, because they are so easy to use that anyone can use them; of course, after you have seen and watched how others have done it and that’s the role I am playing and the one I am very keen on expanding further in upcoming blog posts, because I think it is important and relevant enough from the perspective that very very few companies have actually identified the need for their knowledge workers to be educated on collaboration and the various collaborative  tools available. They just don’t see the immediate payoff. Well, they won’t, but in the long run, as we become more and more virtually distributed, such collaboration, knowledge sharing & social computing skills will not be a nice thing to have, but an essential skill we would all need to have, as we progress further into the Knowledge Economy of the 21st century.

Thus, what do you think? Do you think you can spend some time now educating your fellow knowledge workers towards becoming more productive and therefore collaborate with you in a much more open social space, or do you want to go the easy way out … just sending one more e-mail?

Your choice!

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  1. Luis: I am trying so, so hard to emulate the example you have set; however, you point to something that is so key, I just don’t feel I can do this myself – education.

    We have tools behind the firewall which we are using;however, email is that crutch so easy to use – it is an easy way out to send an email rather than gather thoughts and organize them for a weekly call and then post notes on a team site, etc.

    I’m trying, man! The education thing is larger than I am.

    Thanks for the great post here, as always!

    Your friend – Ami

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