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

From the blog

A World Without Email – Year 3, Weeks 11 to 18 (Social Networks Spur the Demise of Email in the Workplace)

Gran Canaria - Municipio de MogánLike I have just mentioned in another blog post, I am making my way already to Boston to attend, and present, at the Enterprise 2.0 conference event that will start taking place next week Monday. And the excitement is building up more and more by the day. I am currently drafting this blog post on my way to Chicago, but I’m sure I’ll only be able to post it once I settle down in Boston, later on today or tomorrow morning on Sunday…  Either way, I will have plenty of time to spare for this one flight, right?, so I thought I would go ahead and put together another blog post. One that would include a much long overdue update on how things are going with that work related activity of living "A World Without Email". It’s about time, don’t you think?

Yes, that’s right! I guess it’s about time that I share an update on how things are going, if they are still going… A bunch of the good friends who are going to be in Boston next week have asked me lately whether I’m still going strong with that, now consolidated, experiment of "giving up email at work" or whether I have abandoned it myself altogether and moved into other things… No, I haven’t, quite the opposite! Going stronger than ever!

If you would remember, the last time that I put together a blog post on this topic was about two months ago. Yes, two months! So I guess it’s a good time to come back and share with you folks what’s been happening. I am not planning on sharing the various weekly progress reports, since you would be able to check out all of those eight weeks directly from the latest one. However, what I thought would be rather interesting would be to include that new graphic that includes the timeline, week by week, from  over the last three years so you can see how the number of incoming emails I have received has been decreasing consistently and steadily over those three years. And how that trend seems to be consistent.

Thus without much further ado, here you have got the latest progress report and that comparative new graphic to see things in perspective:

A World Without Email - Year 3, Weeks 11 to 18

And here is the graphic itself with the timeline from the last three years for the first 18 weeks of each year:

A World Without Email - A Comparative of Year 3, First 18 Weeks of Emails Received

As you would be able to see from both snap shots, the decrease on the amount of incoming emails has been rather notable, specially from the second year into the third, where you would expect that things may not be the case. Let’s talk about some of those numbers…

For the first 18 weeks in Year #2 the total amount of emails received was 461, whereas in Year #3 that number has been 323. So that basically means 138 less emails from one year to another. Or to put it in another way, in Year #2 I got an average of 26 emails per week for the first 18 weeks, whereas for those very same 18 weeks in Year #3 the average has been 18 emails received. Not bad. Not bad at all!! Well under the 20 emails per week mark I have been going for over the last 16 months! Very nice, indeed!

The interesting thing from this particular trend is how, as I keep getting less and less emails at work, most of my interactions keep happening elsewhere, as you folks already know, i.e. social networking tools; however, as a result of that, I am finding out as well how more and more those colleagues who used to rely on email quite heavily, instead, take the plunge and start relying more and more on the same social software tools where I usually hang out. End result? Well, that over time a good chunk of our mutual knowledge sharing and collaborative efforts will be happening out there in the open, available to everyone to participate in, or not, depending on the need and / or the context. But the option is right there, which is not the same thing I could say about email itself, for instance.

Later on, in another blog post, perhaps, I will go ahead and share with you folks a couple of charts I keep reusing myself at various different conference events and workshops that cover the incredibly massive transformation that IBM is going through with its wider adoption of social software within the enterprise. To the point where some of that growth has been, if anything, rather exponential. Rather shocking, I can tell you, if you come to think how email driven IBM has been all along, and, perhaps, still is in some areas. It really is rather exciting to witness such transformation and even more exciting to show and help demonstrate how knowledge workers can remain as productive as ever, if not more!, by making use of these social tools!

That’s why, like I have said a couple of times already, there is no way back for me. I have seen the light; the many benefits; the tremendous power of relying on your social networks to get the job done as a group activity in half the time for simple things like putting together a presentation on whatever the topic, or helping answer the questions by the right experts; the lack of stress having to process hundreds of emails every week; the huge opportunity to share and collaborate in a much more open, public and transparent manner; in short, the unprecedented opportunity to take back control of my own productivity and, as a result of that, help others benefit from that exposure to an increasing and constant learning path, while on the job, established by those social networks. Priceless!

And in this context, I thought it would be a good idea to move on and share with you folks a couple of rather interesting links relevant to this topic of living "A World Without Email" that can certainly help set the stage on why email perhaps doesn’t cut it anymore as the main dictator of how communication and collaboration should happen.

The first link is a WSJ article put together by Sue Shellenbarger under the title Email Backlash Builds and which pretty much describes a rather interesting experiment from an American company, SuccessFactors, that just recently decided to stop using email for an entire week (Not just one Friday, but an entire week!!) and, instead, communicate and collaborate through other means, whether face to face, through the telephone, or, of course, making use of a social networking tools (Microblogging in this case).

I bet you may be wondering what triggered such a radical experiment, right? Well, Lars Dalgaard, CEO of SuccessFactors, puts it quite nicely. And, in fact, when going through the quote I will be including below I just couldn’t help thinking about how some of those various reasons stated in the article are the very same ones that prompted me, amongst several others, to give up on email at work over three years ago in the first place… Here is the quote, so you can have a look:

"Mr. Dalgaard objects to email partly because people use it to avoid talking with others, or to hide negative or critical messages or information from coworkers, sometimes by hitting the “bcc” button. His goal in setting the ban is to get employees “authentically addressing issues amongst each other,” he told employees. “Confront issues head-on, don’t hide behind emails.” So far, the edict is working; people are grabbing their phones or walking to each other’s desks to talk, Mr. Dalgaard says. Employees can still contact each other online through in-house social networks, where groups post short messages that can immediately be seen by everyone"

Goodness! Who would have thought, right? Not sure what you would think, but I suspect that Dalgaard pretty much nails it when detailing some of the evils of email and how knowledge workers keep abusing it for purposes and contexts that should not be used in the first place. Of specific relevance in this case it’s the political reference to using the ".bcc" button. I just can’t remember the last time, it must have been years ago, that I used ".bcc" in a notification. I guess I know now why and suppose I would be rather grateful for it. Indeed, I am! Playing political games through email exchanges can be so harmful to any business that may have a strong, trustworthy, open and transparent corporate culture. So much so that they should be avoided at all costs. Just imagine how much time did you spend the last time you sent, or received!, one of those political ".bcc" or ".cc" to realise the kind of damage they could provoke!

The other interesting reading that I thought was worth while sharing over here is this other one, put together by the smart folks of SocialCast, under the heading "Social Networks Spur the Demise of Email in the Workplace" and which pretty much comes to put together "10 reasons why email is dead". Well, I am not really sure, just yet, to declare whether email is dead or not, but certainly the article brings forward plenty of really good points as to why "email no longer rules the communication dictatorship in the office".

However, I particularly like the graphics used on that blog post that try to demonstrate how email may no longer be the best communication, knowledge sharing and collaborative tool out there within the enterprise and as such, if you would have a chance to read through the article itself I can certainly recommend you check it out and pay special attention to that graphic, because it is rather revealing, to say the least.

It’s probably a rather long read, but certainly, one I can strongly recommend, specially for the sections on Information Overload (Check out the average number of emails that people still send across per day, compare to the statistics I shared above!), Information Fragmentation (On the topic of prioritising incoming emails to figure out what to respond to first), and, finally, the section on Activity Streams, which, by the way, I totally agree with, since that has been my very own same experience when using those activities streams behind the firewall with our very own Lotus Connections Profiles Boards.

Well, I guess that’s enough for an update on what has happened over the last two months of living "A World Without Email"; somehow I suspect that if things continue to follow this trend on the second half of this year I’ll start seeing how more and more I’ll be getting closer to the range of 10 emails, or less!, per week than the just a bit under 20 I’m getting at the moment. And, as you can imagine, somehow, I just can’t wait for that to happen!

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