Last week at work was, perhaps, one of the most excruciating, rather annoying and frustrating weeks that I can remember in my 16 years of work with my current employer and it was not because of the sheer madness, rather hectic and busy work schedules, you know, those are business as usual and quite good fun still (Already having crossed through the second month on the new job!), but more because for the first time in a long while I got to experience what I think is the Achilles Heel for Knowledge (Web) workers in this digital age. Specially, for those of us who are working remotely, away from the traditional office. Yes, indeed, last week I experienced, in full force, what it would be like having an intermittent connection to internal networks, through VPN, as well as the Internet in general, through my ISP. And I tell you, it wasn’t pretty. At all.
Indeed, like I mentioned above, it was one of those dreadful experiences that clearly reminds us all how fragile remote knowledge (Web) workers are in terms of the dependencies on the availability of a good, reliable and accessible VPN and Internet connections. Most folks out there know by now how, thanks to the “Life Without eMail” movement I started over 5 years ago, I have now been successful in having moved over 98% of my daily work to the Web, whether on the Intranet or the Internet. Yet, last week was perhaps one of the quietest times I have gone through that I can remember. Why? Because I was offline for the vast majority of it. Both my VPN connection as well as my local ISP were having continuous issues helping me remain connected and eventually ended up in me putting a bunch of extra hours at work just trying to catch up with things when they would become more stable. And some times they did, and some others, they didn’t.
But right there I realised how when you are working from the traditional office space things are relatively good in terms of connectivity. You know, everyone working along through the same pipes, so to speak, and if the Internet or the Intranet goes down, that’s just fine, it’s down for everyone, so you are in equal terms for that matter and might as well enjoying a coffee or two while the system goes up to support back again several hundreds of office knowledge workers. However, when you are a remote knowledge worker, who depends on the Web for the majority of your work, things are much different.
As a starting point, you are alone. You are, typically, in the middle of nowhere (my closest IBM office is about 1,200 KM away from where I live / work), trying to get connected to the rest of the world that flies passed by you at a lightning speed, and that you hope to jump into the bandwagon which is the Internet, so that you can catch up. Well, last week, my train never showed up, helping me understand the challenges of what it would be like if, all of a sudden, remote knowledge (Web) workers, get to suffer from intermittent (Or permanent, for that matter!) connectivity issues in order to carry out their digital work.
It just won’t happen. And, you know, work won’t stop. It never does. It will just keep carrying on and piling up, which means that, as a remote employee or knowledge worker, your dependency on a good VPN and ISP connectivity are going to be critical. Otherwise, it’s just like one of those dead tentacles you can just chop off and no-one will notice. And while I can see how that may well not be too worrying for companies and businesses, since it’s just an isolated case or two, perhaps a few hundred (tops), the reality is that for you it’s like the whole world just collapsed and decided to stop spinning around.
Yes, I know, I realise I am putting a little bit of extra drama on the huge impact of network connectivity for remote employees, but is it really that much of an exaggeration? Because, somehow I feel it’s not, specially, if you consider how, unless you live in a rather large urban place, you, as a remote worker depending on the Web to get your work done, are doomed and big time. And, most probably, no-one would even notice.
And, let’s face it. We are entering the stage where broadband penetration, at least, in (Western) Europe, is pretty much a good myth, specially, if you don’t live in big cities. If you live in relatively small towns, or rural / remote areas, that pervasive connectivity is non-existent, which comes to fight the argument that the Web keeps us all hyperconnected and networked no matter what. Well, it matters, connectivity, at least, in Europe, is not as pervasive as what most folks feel, and if you have been reading my recent business trips across several European countries, it’s more of a wider issue than anything else, not necessarily related to a specific country or local region.
It bugs me. I tell you, it bugs me quite a lot, actually, because, last week, I realised how I was no longer capable of accessing the most precious thing that makes the Internet a wonderful thing: free information. And I don’t mean free as in you don’t have to pay for it. I mean it from the perspective of no longer being capable of accessing free flows of information to allow me to get my work done in an effective and efficient manner. Never mind the good amount of conversations I could no longer have in terms of nurturing and continuing to build my personal business relationships, including blogging away over here, which I couldn’t, as some of you have well observed through offline interactions.
Ugly. Very ugly state of things, if we have to keep depending on that reliability of connectivity for that major shift of the knowledge workforce that’s already well underway, where more and more people are becoming remote employees, or even no longer attached to companies but doing freelance work, and still needing to have that connection to the Web. That shift is not going to change, nor disappear, but to accelerate greatly over the next couple of years and seeing how urban places are starting to become more jammed and overpopulated, it’s going to be a huge issue if those remote workers from small, rural places can’t keep connected in a reliable manner. Or if, all of a sudden, ISPs decide to sacrifice their quality service to reduce costs or companies decide that good, robust VPN solutions are not worth the investment anymore, therefore forcing their remote employees to trash off the flexibility they once had and return back to the traditional office, no matter at what costs.
Of course, we have got email to fix that problem. I am sure you all have been thinking about that very same thought all along while reading this article, and, to be frank, no, we don’t. Email will not solve the problem, because, yes, you can work offline through your mailbox and everything, but you still need the connectivity to send those emails across and when exchanging large rich media files, or presentations, proposals, status project reports and what not; you are going to have a need for a rather fast and robust network connection. We are no longer in the mid-90s where a regular analogue line could get you through the daily email in a matter of minutes. Plus, I am not sure I would want to venture to state that email is safe in the current workplace just because we don’t have enough broadband capacity or a rather robust VPN set of solutions. It would be just totally wrong and for a good number of reasons.
We need to step up, we need to level up the game and start embracing the fact that over the course of time, the vast majority of your companies’ work is going to be executed, done and dealt with by people who are not working at the traditional office anymore, and, as such, we would need to ensure they are reliably connected to the Web to get their work done. As more and more of us progress further away from firewalls and internal protected networks into the Open Social Web, I guess we would be saying good-bye to VPNs, but then again, if you have been watching the news over the course of the last few months, and, lately, in the last week or so, you would know how some conversations would still need to take place in a secure, private, protected space, although still open and accessible to everyone concerned (i.e. employees, customers and business partners, for that matter).
So the need for ISPs to understand how freelancers work remotely and how much they rely on that network connection for a whole lot more than just sending an email, also correlates to the need from businesses to understand how critical good, reliable VPN connections are to allow those employees to stay connected in a world that’s become more virtual, distributed and remote than ever. Upping the game will get us all there, eventually. Not doing anything, though, thinking things will be all right, after all, will help us go into a Dark Age I doubt we’d ever be able to recover from accordingly. All of us.
Now, imagine if all ISPs, while they are going to become more under pressure over time, decide to take us through on to those dark ages … for good. Imagine, if, all of a sudden, after seeing last few weeks’ global events all over the place (Take your pick as there are a lot of those to choose from!) things just collapse. Just like that. Well, don’t imagine it. Let’s just work really hard on not making it happen any time soon, because somehow the trend keeps showing how we are heading towards that collapse, without remedy. I know, I know, I don’t plan to finish off this article with a negative thought of what might happen. Instead, I would want to finish it off with a rather outrageous, optimistic and heretic trend of thought on what’s at stake at this point in time, so please do allow me to leave you with this absolutely stunning, rather inspiring and incredibly thought-provoking presentation from one of my favourite thinkers of the 21st century that I just can’t have enough of in terms of showing the way of where we are heading, not only in the business world, but in our society. Check out Manuel Castells‘ recent RSA speech on “Networks of Outrage and Hope“, which will also confirm, for that matter, why social networking is here to stay and for a good few years, not only as matter of expressing yourself, but perhaps altogether as a matter of finding a new purpose, a new focus and a new meaning altogether: a better world for all of us.
There have been a lot of people who, over the course of the last few months, have been asking me whatever happened to that initiative I started a while ago around ditching corporate email (Under the moniker “A World Without eMail“), since things seem to have been a bit quiet over here in this blog for a little while on that very same subject. Did I give up on giving up on corporate email? Did I get tired of it and moved back to email? Was the experiment a total failure? Did I get tired of it and move on to something else? What happened? Well, nothing and a lot! The movement is still alive and kicking. It’s now more popular than ever and it’s still going as strong as ever, if not more! To the point where it’s now evolved into what will be the next stage and my new focus area: Life Without eMail.
A couple of months back I was talking about this with one of my fellow IBM colleagues, and very good friend, Rawn Shah, and while brainstorming on something that I am hoping to be able to share very soon (Which I am sure plenty of folks out there have been waiting for it for a while!), we thought it was time for me to help the movement evolve into something much more exciting: going personal. Indeed, instead of focusing on the whole world, which may have been a bit too ambitious and perhaps over demanding on everyone as in too large to cover, I am switching gears and instead adopt a new mantra towards it: Life Without eMail.
Why? Well, mainly because if there is anything that I have learned over the course of time, and, specially, in the last couple of years, is that the world doesn’t use email. People do. So if someone would want to free their life up of the email yoke it’s got to start with people. We are the ones who should, and need!, to break that chain. The (corporate) world is not going to do it. It’s just far too comfortable keeping up the status quo of abuse, political and bullying games just as it is. It’s a matter of divide and conquer. And so far email is winning, at least, according to some folks, although I reserve the right to disagree with those statements, specially, when we start separating email as a content repository from email as an alert / notification system (BACN anyone?). Either way, that’s why I feel it’s probably a good time to move on to the next challenge. To design a new kind of work, a new mindset of work habits that would inspire each and everyone of us to become much more collaborative and keen on sharing our knowledge out there openly through digital tools, whatever those may well be.
So, instead of just focusing on the world itself, it’s time to focus on the people, the knowledge (Web) workers, to help them free themselves up from what may have been stopping their passion to pursue something bigger, much bigger, for themselves. That is why from this year onwards I will be talking about going personal with Life Without eMail.
It’s no coincidence either, really. Because those of you folks who may have been following this blog for a while would realise now how, a couple of months ago, we just went through the 5th year anniversary since I first started “Thinking Outside the Inbox“, then how it evolved into “A World Without eMail” and how it all comes back to basics, eventually: that is, live a successful, purposeful, effective and rather productive work life without depending so much on corporate email. Indeed, I can’t believe it either myself that February 15th 2013 marked the 5th year anniversary of an initiative for which a large chunk of people thought I would be fired from my current work within two weeks, thinking I was just plain crazy, and, instead, here I am, 5 years on and having a real blast with it.
Of course, there have been plenty of obstacles along the way, and there are still plenty of them ahead of us, but, if there is anything that I have learned in the last year, since my last progress report update, and even more so in the last few months, is that this movement is now unstoppable. And that’s why I thought it would be a good time to put together this blog entry where I could reflect on what has happened since the last update I published over here, where we are moving forward and what surprises do I have reserved for you folks, because I do have a couple of them…
But let’s start with the beginning. First, let me assure you that although this article is going to be a bit long (Remember, it’s a yearly update hehe), it is not going to be as massive as the last one I put together by the beginning of last year. This time around I am just going to focus on giving you folks an update on what’s happened in the last 12 months, then share some further details on a new experiment I have conducted last year that I am sure you would all enjoy learning some more about it and after all of that we will go through the surprises I have got prepared for you. So, let’s begin…
A World Without eMail – Year 5 – Progress Report
If you remember, in the last blog entry on the topic I mentioned, for the previous year, how the average of incoming emails I had over the course of the whole year was down to 16 emails per week, which is roughly about 2 emails per day. So, as you can see, I wasn’t capable of killing email per se as most folks have been saying all along, specially, when I am being introduced at a public speaking event. However, if I look into what I used to have before I started this initiative there has been a decrease of up to 98% of the total volume of inbound email, which I guess it’s just not too shabby when thinking about how 5 years ago I received a total amount of 1647 incoming emails and last year only 798.
No, that’s right. eMail is not dead and it’s far from being dead, despite what some other folks may have been claiming all along. This is something that I have been saying all along myself, too! eMail still has got its place in the corporate world. More specifically in three different contexts or, as I call them, use cases. To name:
- Universal Identifier (For whenever you need to sign up for a new service)
- Calendaring and Scheduling of events in your agenda (Most of those meetings, appointments seem to come through email still).
- 1:1 Confidential, sensitive exchanges (HR, Legal, Financial matters would be prime examples for this use case. Notice how I mention 1:1 and not 1:many confidential emails, by the way, more than anything else, because as soon as you include more than one person it’s no longer confidential. You never know where it will go next and who may leak the information across)
However, beyond those three use cases, there isn’t an excuse anymore to move the vast majority of our interactions into more open social, collaborative, knowledge sharing spaces: digital tools. And this is when it is getting really exciting, because, despite the various different reports that indicate how email use has gone sky high through the roof, here I am to confirm how not only the number of incoming emails for yours truly has remained steady, but it actually decreased for the 5th consecutive year, ending up at barely 15 per week. Yes, barley 15 per week and if it weren’t for a couple of weeks where that traffic experimented a certain peak I would have been on 14 emails received per week! Too funny, as an anecdote, that one of those weeks was the very same one that 5 years ago it also triggered the giving up on corporate email by yours truly!
Here’s the full report of the entire year, where you can see the maximum number of emails received for one day, and the minimum. And right next to it, you will see as well the comparison with the previous 3 years, so you can have a look into the overall trend from that 4 year period. If you would want to check out the entire progress report into more detail from all of those years go to this link and you will find it there:
Not too bad, I guess, for an initiative that most people thought it was going to be dead within the first two weeks, don’t you think? 5 years on and a Life Without eMail is now a reality. And it can only get better …
Social Networking tools *do* make you ever so much more productive
Over the course of the last 5 years one of the main comments I have been getting all along from those folks who may have been exposed to this movement has been along the lines of how as interesting as it has been moving my work interactions from email into social networking tools, it seems as if the only thing I did was swap from one tool for another. Still the same result. Well, not really. Here is why…
You may have seen that particular piece of research that McKinsey did in 2011 where it mentioned some fascinating insights on our corporate work habits confirming how the average time that most knowledge workers spend just processing email is roughly around 650 hours per year. Yes, I know it may not sound too much, but that’s actually nearly 3 months out of the year people spend it processing email. Now, if you add up the month of vacation approx., we end up with nearly 4 months out of the whole year being spent just working through emails, because you do check out your mailbox while you are away on vacation as well, right?
So earlier on last year I decided to do a little experiment where I would try to measure the time I spend on internal social networkings tools to get my work done and see how that would compare to the time spent doing email. If I would have just switched from one tool into another set of digital tools it would show pretty much the same time spent, right? Well, wrong!
Most of you folks out there know how much of a big fan I am of the pomodoro technique, which I have blogged about a couple of times already. Last year I decided to ruthlessly measure the time I would spend in internal social networking tools in chunks of 25 minute long pomodoros and see how many of those I would accumulate over the course of months. And now that the year has gone by it’s time to share the stunning results.
Over the course of 2012 I have spent 683 pomodoros of 25 minutes each to not only keep up with what was happening around me through social technologies, but at the same time to get my day to day work done. So that means I have spent 17.075 minutes working my way through these digital tools, that is, 284.5 hours approximately. Eventually, resulting in 35.5 days or, in other words, 5 weeks. Yes!, not even a month and a half!! Who would have thought about that, right? But it gets even better…
Because it also means it could save people even more time to do other more productive tasks. These statistics are just from myself, a power user of social networking tools with no scientific method in place. A social computing evangelist at heart. Someone who lives these digital tools, walking the talk, learning by doing. Perhaps the atypical social networker, because that’s where I have moved all of my work related interactions to a great extent. As an example, in our internal social networking platform, IBM Connections, the average number of connections / contacts fellow IBMers have is roughly around 40 people, approx. For me, I’m currently coming close to 3,280 folks, so you can imagine how my internal networks do not represent the normal and why I strongly believe that those productivity gains in time saved using social tools could be even bigger for vast majority of knowledge workers out there.
Thus what does that all mean? Well, essentially, that next to all of the perks and various benefits I have been sharing around becoming more open, more public, collaborative, flexible, autonomous, transparent, agile, and more responsible for how I work I can now add up that living social / open has made me more than two times as productive as whatever I was 5 years ago! And believe me, this is something that I really appreciate, because, like for everyone else, work does never decrease, but it is always on the increase, so knowing that I have remained over twice as productive over the course of the years, no matter what, has been a splendid and surprising new finding that has made me realised the whole initiative since I got it started 5 years ago with it has been more than worthwhile.
But what do you think yourself? Would you be able to relate to this new experiment yourself as well? Specially, if you have started already that journey of reducing your dependency on email, is it something you can confirm yourself, having experienced similar results, although perhaps not at the same scale as what I have done and described above myself so far? Do you feel it’s a realistic conclusion altogether? I am not claiming it’s a rather scientific experiment, since it isn’t, but I’m starting to think that it could well prove accurate enough to confirm the ever significant impact of social technologies in the corporate world.
The one thing that I do know now is that relying more and more on social networking tools for business to carry out my day to day work does make me much more productive and effective than whatever email claimed to be in the past. And that’s a good thing! Finally, the living proof is there! It’s all about working smarter, not necessarily harder. All along. It’s all about making it personal and making it work for you, just like I did for myself. And therefore the new moniker kicking in from now onwards…
Life Without eMail – The Community, The Movement
So, “where to next then?”, you may be wondering by now, right? Well, certainly, I am not going to stop here. Like I said, there is no way back anymore, but onwards! The movement is alive and kicking and we are going to take it into the next level with a couple of surprises I have got for you folks for sticking around following this initiative all along and for being so incredibly supportive over the course of time and for sharing along with me this fascinating journey. Hello and welcome to the Life Without eMail community. The Movement.
Last year’s progress report, you would remember, was rather massive, more than anything else, because I decided to summarise one whole year of progress with a substantial amount of interesting and relevant links about the impact of social networking tools on helping us reduce our dependency on email by a large margin. I talked as well about other companies attempting to do the same, as well as sharing plenty of interesting and relevant links on good practices on using social tools, or fine tuning the email experience to get the most out of it.
Well, this year I am not going to do that. I still have got a bunch of top-notch resources, but instead of sharing them over here in this blog post I decided to eventually gather them all, and over the course of time, share them over at my Scoop.it account that I am in the process of feeding it, as we speak, and where I will continue to add those links over time, so from here onwards you would be able to keep up to date with all of those relevant links I may bump into that would cover this topic of “Life Without eMail” from other people interested in the topic, or writing / talking about it, as well as including articles I may write myself, interviews I may conduct or public speaking events I may well do, so you could have them all in a single place. Starting already today!
But the main surprise is another one I have got prepared for you folks. Plenty of people have been asking me over the course of the years whether there would be a central place where those #lawwe and social networking enthusiasts could gather together to share their own experiences, hints and tips, their know-how, lessons learned, and whatever other activities where they (we) could all learn from one another. And time and time again I have been telling folks there wasn’t a specific space. Till today.
Indeed, along with Prof. Paul Jones, Paul Lancaster and Alan Hamilton, all really good friends and folks who have already embarked on freeing themselves up from the corporate / organisational email yoke as well, we have decided to put together a community space where we could hang out with other folks interested in this movement and help share our very own experiences, know-how, and plenty of practical hints and tips on what it is like having ditched work email for good. The original idea, and due credit, of course, is going to go to Alan Hamilton, who suggested to me some time last year to put together a community space where we could hang out. And while we couldn’t get it sorted out back then, too much going on, as usual, I guess it’s never too late, eh? So thanks ever so much, Alan, for triggering the thought of having an online community for us to get together!
And after much discussion and looking around for some really good solutions that may be available out there, we have all agreed to create this particular community space over in Google Plus Communities. So here’s the link to it:
We hope you would find the time to come and join us in the community, where all of us, me included, will be sharing plenty of our own experiences, as I mentioned above, on how to reduce our inbox clutter while we keep sharing some additional insights on what’s happening in the space of social networking, Social Business and, of course, Open Business and how they keep disrupting the corporate email driven world as we know it. Still today. Our main purpose is to help out knowledge workers become more open, transparent and collaborative through digital tools vs. just keep dragging along through an excessive and perhaps unnecessary abuse of our email habits. I can surely guarantee you it’s going to be a fun ride!
So much so, that if you are really willing and committed to give it a try yourself we will be sharing with you some initial tips by which we can guarantee you that within the first 5 weeks, since you start, you would be able to see your incoming email volume getting reduced by over 80% and without hardly any effort, just applying some methodology I have developed over the course of time and which I am sure you would be able to follow with no problem since it isn’t rocket science, really, but just the trigger to break the chain and to, finally, have that rather rewarding and fulfilling sensation of owning your work, perhaps for the first time in a while!
Will you join us? Remember, 80% reduction of incoming email in just 5 weeks! Here is the link again to the community to get you going and thanks ever so much, once again, for the continued support, for sticking around and for having made these 5 years quite an interesting, inspiring, exciting and rather refreshing time!
Onwards into a Life Without eMail!
[In my next article on this topic, I will be writing about a rather interesting twist that I have gone through this year so far. A hard reset. A reboot from everything that I have done in the last 5 years… But that would be the story for another post soon enough…]
If you would remember, a few months back, I put together this blog post on “Why Do I Share My Knowledge?“, where I reflected on the main reasons as to why I’m so keen myself on sharing my knowledge across out there openly and in a more or less transparent manner. I guess that’s what Open Business is all about. Whether for Learning, Helping Others, or Leaving a Legacy Behind. The interesting thing though is that perhaps the main reason why I have been sharing more of my knowledge over the course of the years, is because, deep inside, I am still a child. We all are, after all. It’s just that for a good number of decades we may have neglected our childish nature of sharing for the sake of sharing. And that’s perhaps what has gotten us into trouble in the first place. Again, when was the last time that you behave like a kid when shared something?
I know it may all sound a bit too cryptic and eclectic when talking about those references around childhood, but I just couldn’t help thinking about dropping by over here today to share what’s perhaps one of the most inspiring video clips you will be watching this year and I would strongly encourage everyone to go out there and spend nearly two minutes to go through it to see what I mean.
As you may recall I’m currently on the road, in Prague, to be more precise, on the last leg of this business trip, having a wonderful time visiting the city and doing plenty of good work around Social / Open Business and “A World Without eMail“. Yet, in between here and there I am still having a bit of time to catch up with what’s happening in my various different social networks, and then serendipity does its magic, once again, and hits me badly! In a wonderful way…
Lately, my good friend Chris Brogan, has been doing some phenomenal sharing of great, relevant and insightful content over at Google Plus on how these digital tools are helping transform not only our businesses, but also our personal lives. One of those posts though is special, actually, rather special. It contains a link to that short YouTube video clip that I mentioned above and that I’m sure it’s going to give you shivers through your spine as you get to watch it. Why? Well, essentially, because it will remind you of what we were like when we were kids… And why a good number of us are still kids today. Instead of me telling you what I mean with all of that, I am going to stop here for a minute and encourage you all to watch the video and judge for yourselves…
Whoah! There you have it! Right there! What do you say to that? I bet very few comments can be added other than acknowledging that perhaps we have gone all the way wrong in our perceptions and expectations around the whole concept of Sharing. That Sharing Experiment is a whole proof we can do better at the workplace when sharing our knowledge across. And I know what you may be thinking … Those kids are already a bit too old and they probably have been taught, and educated, by their parents what sharing is all about without asking anything in return. And probably you are right!
But then again, where does that live us, adult knowledge workers, in terms, specially, of how we collaborate and share our knowledge in the workplace? Where did we go wrong with our childhood education and learning, or even our very own human nature as kids, where we seemed to have acquired the right skills yet, when entering the corporate world, we looked like we have left that behind and instead keep protecting and hoarding our knowledge, fighting with one another, still strongly believing that “Knowledge is power“.
Really? Well, I hope not! Look at what this bunch of kids are showing us above, on the video clip. Essentially, that human beings are social animals who share unconditionally with fellow humans what we know, what we treasure, what we are truly passionate about, what we care for, i.e. the well being of fellow humans, without asking for anything in return…
Thus as I keep reflecting on everything that I have learned on this long business trip, attending and presenting at multiple conference events, talking and interacting with customers, and learning from other thought leaders, and that I will be blogging about it shortly as well, I know, for sure, that for me to succeed in the large corporate environment there is a single thing that I would need to keep getting very good at, and which it looks a lot easier than what most people may well think about: Let the child inside me come out and show the way on what sharing is all about…
I am hoping that you would do the very same thing. After all, there is nothing to lose, but a lot to win altogether, don’t you think?