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

From the blog

Happiness at Work Starts with #NoeMail

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After nearly 9 years of actively advocating for #NoeMail I guess I can now say this pretty safely: doing #NoeMail all along (and still going rather strong at it, by the way, in case you are wondering!) has always been an excuse, a distraction, an icebreaker of sorts to entice people into stopping for a minute in whatever they are doing and ask themselves, and those around them, why certain things work the way they do within the workplace and yet, in our personal lives, they just don’t happen anymore? I mean, when was the last time you sent out a personal email to your kids, or your spouse, or a close relative, or even a good friend? I bet it’s been quite a while, isn’t it? Why is it so difficult then to challenge the status quo of corporate email and somehow accept its extended (ab)use as a necessary evil? Is it inertia? Is it because it’s hard to break away from our (good old) habits? Is it perhaps because it’s just too easy, pervasive and inexpensive, so that we can keep justifying how busy we all are, after all, despite the harm it’s doing to our very own health? Or is it, maybe, because, you know, changing the nature of work is really hard, so why bother doing it anyway in the first place, right? Well, there you have it. Just like that, all along, it’s been our choice to do something about it, and yet, are we up for the challenge? I think we, finally, might well be…

It’s been a long while, since the last time I wrote a blog post over here about the latest status of my #NoeMail journey, and very often nowadays, not sure why, I keep getting asked about how things have progressed further along over the course of time and whether I’m still doing it and what not, as more and more companies are starting to challenge that same status quo of corporate email I mentioned above and plenty of Messaging & Collaboration, as well as Enterprise Social Networking, vendors begin to market and sell their products as an opportunity to also reduce your inbox clutter. Not to worry, at some point in time I will write as well about all of those different companies and vendors that are starting to not just talk, but also practise actively as well #NoeMail, so you can see how we, true die-hard advocates of new ways of working, are no longer alone by ourselves out there. For today, though, I will just focus on giving you folks an update on how things have progressed since the last time, so you can see what I have been up to, even as I went independent nearly three years ago.

But before I go ahead and do that, I’m going to do things slightly different this time around. I will start by saying that I’m still, indeed, practising it every day. I am still keeping track of the incoming email volume and the great news over here is that when I was a salaried employee my weekly average of incoming emails usually was around 16 emails per week. Fast forward to 2016 and that weekly average is at 2,8 emails per week, as we speak. Yes, you are reading it right: 2,8 emails per week, which I guess is not too shabby, right?, more than anything else, because it confirms you certainly can live without work email either as an employee of a firm (no matter how small or large it may well be!), or if you decide to go and do freelance work. Remember, currently, 2,8 emails per week and still going down…

Ok, since I mentioned how I got things started with A World Without eMail as a rather unique, thought-provoking and somewhat mind-boggling opportunity to open up the conversations and start the dialogue about what I have been really interested in all along, that is, Social Business and its Adaptation Framework, I think it would make sense to put it together into the larger context and start connecting the dots as to where it fits in that Digital Transformation journey itself, so instead of updating you all on what’s been happening around it in isolation, I’m going to start, with today’s blog post, putting it into a larger context of a number of different conversations I have been having over the years with other people on this very same topic and see where we ended up eventually. That way you can see how I have used it as an initial conversation starter to then converse and learn plenty more about other related aspects of that transformation process, and the corresponding change initiatives, that have emerged over the course of time.

Yes, indeed, this means, from now onwards, I am planning to start sharing some additional insights about presentations, interviews, recordings, vlogsvideo clips, etc. etc. I may have done in the recent past on this topic and link to them accordingly adding, hopefully, some additional input into the mix from when I last did them. That way, it will help me keep you folks in the know, so that you can see how close, eventually, #NoeMail is to the overall Social Business journey, to the point where, sometimes, it’s even a tad scary how deeply ingrained it is into the overall transformation process.

So, let’s get down to it then. I shall start today with one of my all time favourite interviews I recently did around mindful social marketing, (and mindfulness, in general, for that matter) and happiness at work. Now, who would have thought both of them would be related to #NoeMail, right? Well, they certainly are! Hang in there for a minute …

Back in July, Janet Fouts kindly invited me, as a guest speaker, to her wonderful #MindfulSocial interviews to talk about a good number of different topics over the course of one hour: employee engagement, mindfulness, happiness at work and, of course, A World Without eMail. Those of you who may be interested in going through the full interview can start playing the recording shared below:


For those of you though who may not want to jump into the recording itself just yet and may be looking for a teaser or two, I have also taken the liberty of re-listening myself to the entire interview and take some copious notes about some of what I think would be interesting and relevant insights worth while mentioning in this article as well and share them across, so that you can judge for yourselves how #NoeMail is all tied in to those same topics I have mentioned above and many more! At the same time, and where appropriate, I have added additional links and reading materials that hopefully will contribute to enrich the actual conversation itself I had with Janet as I keep reflecting on what we talked about back then. See? That’s one of the many reasons why I quite enjoy as well going through the rich media recordings I may well have done over time, because I can remember then other interesting thoughts and reflections I can add into the mix, but that I forgot to mention during that time. Yes, I know, my short term memory is not very good sometimes. Thank goodness we’ve got blogs, right?

Like I said, the interview itself with Janet lasted for a bit over one hour and it was mainly divided in three different blocks of conversations covering #NoeMail, Happiness at Work and Mindfulness. So here are some of the highlights on some of the things we touched base on:

  • #NoeMail: We talked extensively about the main three reasons as to why I got started with it back in February 2008 in the first place, as well as explaining some of the tricks that still help me today go rather strong at it; we discussed as well plenty of the scientific research coming out as of late about some of the different health risks associated with processing email; what current digital tools do I use the most often at the moment (Hint: IBM Connections, Twitter, Slack, Telegram); the importance of filtering; BACN, everyone loves BACN!; the loss of critical knowledge for good once your mailbox gets deleted confirming the good old mantra from Bill French ‘eMail is where knowledge goes to die ; the importance of building bridges between the old world and the new, that is, between email and whatever ESN option(s) you may have at your disposal, etc. etc.We conversed as well about the much needed transition from knowledge stocks into knowledge flows; about the ever increasing importance and relevance of networked driven, open knowledge sharing (That is, from ‘Knowledge is power’ to ‘Knowledge SHARED is power’); about the additional perks (visibility, digital footprint, stronger personal brand through blogging, etc. etc.); about exposing one self and one’s work out there in the open for everyone else to benefit from it through working out loud, narrating your work or observable work (#owork) techniques.We also mused about the many benefits of relinquishing control into your social networks to then regain it back at a later time a whole lot more amplified when you realise your knowledge is no longer yours alone, but your network’s; we listed some of the main use cases for #NoeMail (Finding experts, embracing the power of networks, answering questions, etc.); we talked about the power of #notknowing; about the perils of the Cult of Busyness; about how our perceptions of how people work define what we expect from them, something email has been really good at all along (Remember ’I sent you an email 5 minutes ago and I still haven’t got an answer from you just yet. I wanted it yesterday already, by the way!’?).
  • Happiness at work: From there onwards, we switched into the topic of Happiness at Work citing one of my all time favourite presentations ever around employee engagement. A presentation done by Alex Kjerulf (Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo inc) at #MeaningConf back in 2012 where he talked about what employee engagement is all about: Results and Relationships.From there onwards we talked about how we are currently going through a time where we have the lowest number of friends at work than ever before; how, more often than not, we work nowadays with total strangers, with no attachments; how we have stopped talking to people, conversing with them, learning from them; how trust needs to become, once again, the defining factor of fostering personal business relationships at work, which is why networking is so critical when nurturing relationships through conversations; how it’s much tougher to leave a company behind while your good friends are still there, rather than with total strangers, due to that natural, stronger sense of belonging, of bonding together, of connecting with one another. Eventually, we mused, further along, about how we can improve our relationships at work; rediscover why social capital still matters in the 21st century, and how, now more than ever before, it’s really important that we get  to know closer the people we work with.
  • Mindfulness: The last block of our conversation was perhaps the most exciting and re-energising one, because we ventured into potentially defining what the present of work may look like over the course of time. So we discussed how we may need to start fighting that Cult of Busyness I mentioned earlier on; how we need to live AND work in the moment, without having to worry too much about the future of work; how just being busy kills the conversations right there, right at the start, way before you even attempt to engage. Somehow, we should start growing the need to slow down; does mindfulness help employees become more engaged, motivated, involved in the work they do? Probably. What do you think?That’s probably one of the many reasons why we are witnessing a renewed focus around the wellbeing of the employee, about the overall employee experience itself, understanding happy employees = happy customers; how we seem to be transitioning from assets and resources to people and relationships; how meaning and purpose become the key drivers of re-engaging the employee workforce; what’s your purpose, after all? When was the last time you asked yourself that question?From there onwards we pondered about how multiples generations have different expectations, and how businesses need to meet them all up accordingly, as they may see fit. We talked as well, again, about an important topic, the perils of email inflicted upon our very own health, regardless of the mindfulness initiatives you may have in place so far; examples like Germany and France are just a couple of many attempting to forbid the use of email after office hours and do something about it. It’s just that bad, really.

    At the end of the day, we concluded we need to redefine work to respect people, and their own time, by regaining control of the interactions and the conversations; we also needed to stop appearing to be busy, because otherwise people think we are lazing about, even though productivity has been tanking already since the early 1980s!; working out loud can help out a great deal in showing your presence, showing you are there, available to help, caring for everyone’s time respecting each other’s, even your own. All under a pretty simple guideline, often either ignored, or neglected: if you care for me, I’ll care for you; if you don’t care for me, I won’t care for you (why should I?).

    At the end of the day it’s all about being more empathic about your colleagues while facing the situations they go through; ’how can I help my colleagues be less stressed out?’; ‘when did we stop caring for people?’; ‘What do you care about?’; ‘what’s your purpose?’; that’s where it all starts, challenging the status quo of how certain things operate and how we seem to take them for granted without questioning them. We need to shift focus and treasure the good habit of evaluating one’s strengths vs. our weaknesses and focus on what we would really want to do, following our passion(s).

    At long last, after such wonderfully inspiring conversations, we convened change is all about providing the right conditions for people to decide for themselves, one at a time, as a personal transformation journey, whether it’s worth it changing one’s mindset and behaviours, for their reasons and theirs alone, or not; change is a personal endeavour while traditional change management is all about control by keeping people in little boxes, which is why social business adaptation plans fail big time, because the focus is more on managing change than in creating change; yet, control still is an illusion; we should focus, instead, on influencing (people) by mastering the art of persuasion; HR needs to step up their game in terms of treating people as hard working networked professionals instead of treating them as immature, incompetent jerks (or sheep); we need to get better at asking questions and it all starts by asking even more questions, tons of questions; how are we connected to the experts who may help us solve our business problems? It’s no longer about finding out who the experts are, but also about how we may be connected with them, and, if not, why not? What’s stopping us? How could we get connected? Bridging networks; be willing to always learn, live life in perpetual beta; the moment we stop learning, that’s the moment we start dying. 

    It’s our means of survival by frequently questioning what we know, why we do certain things the way we do, who are we connected with and for what purpose?; we need to, constantly, challenge ourselves on how we learn, or we will have a problem; in this day and age of machines and automation, what do we need to learn (as new skills) to make ourselves *not* redundant?; machines should augment the human capability, not necessarily replace it (and us!); need to redefine a new social contract: what would we do, if we no longer need to work?; can we transition successfully from homo sapiens into homo ludens? It becomes a bit ironic how we now have got an imperative to re-humanise ourselves, once more, but this time around through technology itself as the key enabler. An example: if billions of people become unemployed over time because of that automation, then what?; can (or will) work turn itself into a voluntary task, a hobby, a passion, perhaps even a calling, not necessarily something you just do, you know, to keep paying the bills…? 


You can see how the conversation ended up eventually … Whoahhh! I was completely jazzed up altogether! Pretty amazing to think that all of that happened as a result of that icebreaker of doing #NoeMail, don’t you think? Now you know why I got started with it back in 2008 and why I am still going strong at it. More than anything else, because it gives me an opportunity to keep learning, and iterate again, by always questioning and challenging the current status quo of how businesses operate while we get to redefine what open, transparent, engaging, meaningful, purposeful, caring, empathic, autonomous, motivating and involved organisations should be all about and if that means I will need to continue living in a world without email, so be it!

We are just getting started!

[A big thanks to the wonderful, very talented and incredibly smart Janet Fouts for the kind invite and for the superb, delightful and very much inspiring conversations!]

Worth while sharing it along?
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  1. I feel Mindfulness and employee engagement go hand in hand. I was once asked this question, what does it take to be completely engaged at work? I had to borrow a statement from another interview which I felt was a huge revelation. ” A person becomes completely engaged at work, when he or she does not have even the time to think whether he is happy at work or not” – This is an indication. In other words, we are saying that we are so mindful at work “that we love what we do” and “do what we love”. One needs to be aware.

    Emails does give us the distractions. But to stay focused, one needs to manage these distractions as well. In my opinion, We cannot totally avoid emails, it is entirely up to us (the person who sends and responds) to make it interesting, useful and worthwhile.

    I agree with you when you say that “we need to stop appearing to be busy at work because people will think we are lazying about”. What others think about us should not matter to us as long as we are focused and do the right thing.

    Agree with you when you say that ” Change is all about providing the right conditions for people to decide for themselves”. It is also the responsibility of the leadership team to foster and nurture that kind of environment in organizations. I liked reading through your article. It was nice. Cheers, Ramkumar

    1. Hi Ramkumar, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the terrific comments! Much appreciated. I couldn’t just help noticing your quote shared above RE: ’A person becomes completely engaged at work, when he or she does not have even the time to think whether he is happy at work or not’, where we may need to take things here with a pinch of salt or two, because ’does not have even the time to think whether […]’ can imply treasuring The Cult of Busyiness, which may well not be what we should be going after, specially, for the very same reasons you shared above, i.e. not having enough time to pause, think and reflect about ourselves and the work we do. It’s a very slippery slope we should be aware of, because perhaps some people may take things a bit too literal altogether when they shouldn’t.

      RE: ’Emails does give us the distractions’, this is just a pretty interesting reflection as well, because, if anything, it confirms we may not have learned much, nor done enough about it either, about workplace distractions from when I posted this blog post where I talked about interruptions and the costs associated with them and perhaps with this killer quote I am certain you could relate to as well in that very same context: ‘We create our own distractions and just need to learn to manage them. Something to reflect upon when thinking about our daily email use…

      RE: ‘What others think about us should not matter to us as long as we are focused and do the right thing.’, another great comment that reminds me of how important and critical setting up the right expectations can well be in a workplace environment, because I suspect, when doing so, there wouldn’t be a need to have to worry about what others think about us, so many thanks for that lovely addition into the overall conversation.

      Finally, RE: What others think about us should not matter to us as long as we are focused and do the right thing., very much in agreement as well with your thoughts in this regard, which also reminds me about this other blog post I shared across just recently, where I reflected as well on the much needed re-thinking of traditional change management and how it needs to adjust more towards influencing change to take place with heavy involvement as well from senior leadership team(s) by providing the right conditions for change to take place.

      Many thanks, once again, for dropping by and for the lovely feedback comments! Much appreciated.

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