Life Without eMail – Year 6, Weeks 1 to 20 – (Back to Basics)

23 thoughts on “Life Without eMail – Year 6, Weeks 1 to 20 – (Back to Basics)”

  1. Surely the easiest way to go without email is to close your email account?

    Looking at your chart, you’ve never really gone without email have you?

    The issue I see with your stance about email, is you expect everyone else to work the way you want for your convenience, everyone has the basic communication tool, but you expect them to use other tools. I think if you didn’t work for a large corporation that allowed you to experiment, but for a smaller business, where customers expected one of their communications channels with you as a supplier to be email, you’d find yourself losing customers and not helping your business.

    1. Hi Carl, thanks for taking the time to share such thoughtful and insightful feedback. Appreciated. Surely, the easiest way to go without email is to close my email account, but that would be, indeed, the easy way out, something that I don’t think my current employer would appreciate very well, as you well know, since it serves me as a universal identifier within the firewall, still processes all of my calendaring and scheduling (At least, for now! Looking forward to IBM Connections Events to eventually take that over as time moves along) and I still use it for having 1:1 confidential and rather sensitive exchanges whenever HR, Legal, Trademark / Copyright or financial matters are discussed.

      So, you see, I just can’t go the easy way out, because I *still* find email as a valuable tool for “some” interactions within the corporate workplace. Those three I have just highlighted above, for that matter. For the rest, there is no excuse anymore to use much more effective communication and collaboration tools within the social networking realm. And that’s what I am after…

      I don’t expect everyone to work the way I want for my convenience. Far from the opposite. Believe me, if that would be the case the whole company would be 100% completely different to what it is so far (See my recent posts on Open Business, for instance). I expect people to adapt to new ways of working, of sharing their knowledge across and collaborating more effectively using these social tools, so that instead of competing with one another, instead of stabbing each other’s backs for a few extra pennies, instead of protecting and hoarding their knowledge, of delegating their work on to others while still receive the credit, and engage in silly political and bullying games, they would finally understand the enemy is not their peers, their colleagues, but the business itself (As you may well have observed recently in the last 3 to 5 years…). I expect them to care for one another, to help one another, to be more empathic for one another in an environment that has become more and more rarified by the day, due to the lack of those qualities in the corporate environment.

      Email is not going to help them achieve such mindset and new set of behaviours, as we have witnessed, extensively, over the course of the last 10 to 15 years and that’s what I am after, that folks finally wake up into the new reality of looking after each other through social networks vs. the unhealthy competition that keeps abounding through email interactions.

      Very interesting commentary as well on the fact whether things would change drastically, if I were to work for a small business, vs. a large corporation, like I do now. I would venture to state the game would be completely different. As a starting point, in terms of scalability, of awareness, of reach, of engagement, of collaborating and sharing my knowledge with people who may no longer be total strangers due to that potential proximity of a small business (less employees).

      The rather revealing fact is that I do plenty of work with external folks, smaller businesses, included and quite a bit, and for vast majority of those interactions I rely on social tools like IBM Connections (outside the firewall), Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn, whichever of those is more comfortable for the customer or for that small business and so far I haven’t had a single issue with them, nor them with me. They seem to be quite enjoying having a whole lot less email to process and work through all along. Worth a try!

      Of course, it pretty much depends on the small business and the prefer method of interacting and collaborating, but this journey of ditching work email is not much related to my customer interactions, but to our internal, behind the firewall, interactions, so certainly I don’t see the issue of interacting as a small business, since the approach may work just as well: i.e. stop using work email for internal correspondence and instead just use it for external, customer interactions. I know a bunch of small businesses operating in that model, some of them going back in time over 10 years and being rather successful.

      I guess, it’s back to what I mentioned on the comments above already, it’s about how willing you are to adapt to new ways of interacting while avoiding or neglecting the overall core of your business making processes. Right now, email is really far, for me, to have such status and judging from the impact of these social tools I don’t think I’d be alone, for that matter.

      Either way, whenever I move onwards from the big, large corporate world into running my own small business, I will surely be in touch to let you know how it goes and what’s meant all along, since I am curious as well to see how it may work out eventually…

      Thanks again for taking the time to share that feedback. Appreciated the commentary.

      1. Thanks for the response Luis. So I would be correct in saying then, that you title is misleading, because you’re not leading a life without email, but a life with less email, as they’re very different things.

        I do wonder though, what really defines email, as the activity streams in many apps, really are not much different to email. What’s the difference between a message sent to you in Linked In vs a message sent via email? The great thing about email, is you have a single place to go to check on items, with all these different activity streams you know have multiple places to check, not sure that is more productive.

        If your key argument is that somethings should be removed from email and put in “discussion database” “teamrooms” “forums” etc. I couldn’t agree more, and have been an advocate of that for more than two decades, and in fact, I’ve often told people who send me questions in email to go post them to the relevant forum, so that others may learn from the answers in future.

        1. Hi Carl, thanks a lot for the follow-up and for the additional commentary. Yes, indeed, you are correct on that assumption that I would want to lead a life with less email, but I have learned throughout the years that if you start at the middle there is very little round for a fully-blowing disruption. That’s why the title is a bit more radical, to the extreme, so that its thought-provoking elements of disruption get people to think how they may want to explore it further to define their own comfort zone in making the move over. I am certain that if I did go ahead from the beginning stating I wanted to lead a life with less email, people would have pretty much ignored the whole thing, because it probably doesn’t sound as provocative as stating I would want to life a work life without it. The striking story there is whether I would be able to survive in a corporate environment with that mentality or not, which is what folks find attractive, specially, knowing the corporate environment I work in.

          You bring in a very good point in terms of specifying the main differences between email interactions and some of the private messaging instances from social networks, like LI, as you mentioned. The differences are none. It’s still the same concept, the dynamic though changes, at least, for me, when a good number of what would have been “private” interactions through email or LI, or Twitter or Google Plus are now happening in the open spaces, for everyone to take part and benefit from. That’s the exercise of openness and transparency I am also advocating for, and why, unless it’s a confidential, sensitive exchange, I don’t think everything else should be kept private. Vast majority of my interactions for work related items inside the firewall are all open following that mantra, vs. still relying on email for work items, for instance.

          And the example you have shared above on how you advocate as well for all of that knowledge to be out there in the open in discussion databases, tea-rooms, forums and whatever other open social spaces is exactly what I am after, and what I have been advocating all along, and know you are also a big player in that regard advocating for it, because otherwise I doubt you would have the heavy presence you have out there on open, social spaces.

          I think what we are after is essentially help people understand how sharing your knowledge out in the open with others eventually pays off so much more than just protecting or hoarding it through your Inbox.

          Thanks again for the great feedback! Appreciated the wonderful examples as well!

    2. Email is a waste of my precious time; I’ve had it for twelve long years and I’m done. I shudder to think I pay to be spied on by everybody in the world. How insulting that we aren’t allowed privacy anymore and every citizen should protest and quit email, Twitter and the other mind numbing delights of the Internet which hasn’t made our lives any better and people are as disconnected as they were forty years ago without the Internet.

      Land line phones are the best bet, even though we’re monitored with that too. Why don’t Americans realize how wrong it is to have your government track your every move?

  2. Luis, I’ll admit I’ve not read 90% of the post above, but via a quick skim I see you mention “people don’t feel comfortable enough working out loud” – perhaps it has nothing to do with comfort… perhaps it is appropriateness? As I’ve said in my battle with you for years over this, email is the RIGHT tool in many circumstances. I love social networks, but a HIGH percentage of my work does not belong in the open. Rather than counting # of emails and tracking your ups and downs, have you taken a look at what % of the emails you get would be appropriate to be shared openly vs. kept in the “email silo”?

    1. Hi Alan, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the great feedback, as well! Not to worry, I know the blog post was a bit wordy and everything. To your point on appropriateness, and being the right tool in many circumstances, apart from the three use cases I have shared above (universal identifier, calendaring & scheduling and 1:1 confidential / sensitive) what other many other circumstances would you think would be email appropriate for. For me, none of them, specially, when involving 1:many or many to many, like it happens quite typically with “Reply to All” and such. That’s what I am talking about in terms of opening up and narrate your work, become more transparent in order to get work done together as a network, vs., yet again, another silo.

      Don’t take me wrong, I see the point of silos and how beneficial they can well be for a particular set of interactions, but from that to have the pervasive siloed working environment it’s a bit too much of a stretch. And why I am wondering about what other circumstances you were referring to on the comments above. Care to elaborate some more? Perhaps I am missing some others that I should consider as well as appropriate email exchanges. I actually got a presentation with over 40 of those use cases I am hoping to share publicly soon enough and wonder whether I could add some more to the mix. Let me know what you think…

      About the high percentage of *YOUR* work not belonging in the open is perhaps also a bit of a stretch, I can imagine, since you are an analyst and I can imagine how plenty of the interactions you are exposed to are NDA or pretty close and therefore need to conduct them in a private environment, but, to be frank, vast majority of the knowledge workers out there in the large corporate world wouldn’t have such a need, I am afraid.

      Very interesting thought, indeed, on switching the metric from measuring the number of emails to measure the ones that should be open vs. private. Like I said, based on the 3 use cases I reference above, to me, that would be about 2% of my email interactions on a monthly basis, since I don’t get much involved with confidential content for that matter. So not sure whether it would be relevant, but I will have a look and run a bit of an experiment and see how it goes…

      Thanks again for sharing the feedback comments along! Good stuff!

  3. Email is validated, traceable, secure and convenient. Its also multi-platform, and doesnt evaporate into the ether when cloud providers disappear/crash/change strategy.

    Despite your best efforts, you cannot persuade your IBM colleagues to drop it.

    Perhaps its time you just gave up and became a team-member again?

    —* Bill

    1. Hi Bill, oh dear, let me see how I can put this one, one more time. When ditching corporate email, I am referring to internal, behind the firewall email interactions, where they are *already* validated, traceable, secured and convenient (As an example I can track back the very first post I shared in multiple components of IBM Connections back in the day and yet I can track back an email that’s more than 2 years old, never mind email archives getting lost when hard disk failures occur or data is lost, as examples), because, if they weren’t, what’s the point, Bill, of having Enterprise social networking platforms behind the firewall, please?

      Yes, I may not be able to persuade over 450,000 IBMers in a day or two, but, like I said on the post, I am patient, resilient and persistent enough to keep it going for as long as it takes, with one additional advantage that I am starting to notice more and more often: younger generations entering IBM no longer interact through email, but through social tools, so I eventually just may need to wait for senior older employees to ponder whether they would want to adapt to the new times, or perhaps just retire. In 7 years time, according to some studies, 75% of the active working population will be under 25. Do you think they would want to use email for their day to day interactions?

      LOL! I guess I am going to leave that comment about being a team-member for my team members to respond to it. If there is anything that I have learned through this experience over the course of the years is that I am now much more helpful and relevant to my team members than ever before, because I no longer protect, or hoard my knowledge, but share it openly and without exceptions. I don’t think that’s a trait that team members would be pointing fingers to myself for not being a team member, but like I said, I leave it up to them to answer that one…

      Ohhh, and another reflection, if I weren’t such team-member, do you think my current employer would have allowed me to stay over here for the last 16 years, specially, seeing some of the recent set of events happening in, say, last 3 to 5 years? Hummm … I am not too sure they would have let me, to be frank, not even get close to where I am today and what I am doing today, I can guarantee you that 🙂

  4. Thanks for this great post Luis.

    It’s a hard task to go against the grain in your attempts to work without email and “work outside the inbox” – and even harder to admit that within IBM you felt it looked as though you had “lost the war” on email altogether! It’s not easy to admit when your long term plans are not going as well as you thought and that you have had to return to basics. You exemplify what working out loud in an open and transparent way really means – for better or for worse !

    As IBM is such a large organisation it is much more likely that your “work without email” was only familiar to those in your immediate circle and those just outside it who needed to interact with you. What hadn’t happened was the kind of “ripple” effect of it spreading further – consequently new role, now teams, new interactions – and that deeply ingrained email habit suddenly reared its ugly head!
    That has the unfortunate effect for you of having to go back to basics – but at the same time it may have the advantage of being stronger because you’ve had 5 years of experience and IBM Connections within the firewall is a far better established tool in order for you to demonstrate the alternative is on a social platform.

    My own experience is that demonstrating and teaching what these platforms can do and what they are for works better than trying to tell people to stop using a tool they are so familiar with they wake up to it and go to bed with it (email). Like all changes, it takes time and adjustment but I have seen changes in the most unlikely teams that have indeed involved a move to a new way of working that is accessible, open and without email for that particular project or job. That’s how it starts.

    The other misnomer is ofcourse that you “never use email” – and I know that in the past I have had this same discussion with you. Of course you use it, but in very sparing and limited ways (as you have mentioned) and instead change internal working habits to an open and social environment.

    What I do find very surprising in the comments that follow your blog is the assertion that not using email means you are not a proper “team member” – since to me email is the reverse of that concept. Working on a social platform within the firewall is how you can see team work happening. Nor does it have to be “open” – in our social platform you can work in secret, private or totally openly depending on the nature of the work and how confidential or public you want it to be. The choice is yours as the creator of the project. But the important thing is that all discussion pertaining to a single project (and relevant documentation) can remain in one place and be accessed by all involved in different parts of the world and in different time zones – without the need for sending a single email.

    As for the issue of security and validation of email v internal social platform I would love the to see the statistics that the former is more reliable? That would be really interesting! When the hurricane hit the east coast of the US it was our social platform that kept everyone connected and able to work – whilst email went down.

    It requires courage to carry on Luis when it appears against all odds – but I admire that you haven’t given up – though my preference would be to promote open and social (as you do anyway) rather than try and convince people that they must do without something that is a deep seated habit. They will change – but let them think they have made the change without being told?

    A reply to rival the length of your blog!!


    1. Hi Marie-Louise, WOW!! FANTASTIC!! Many many thanks for taking the time to drop by and share such a wonderful round of very insightful feedback comments! Just brilliant and much much appreciated!

      RE: “As IBM is such a large organisation it is much more likely that your “work without email” was only familiar to those in your immediate circle and those just outside it who needed to interact with you. What hadn’t happened was the kind of “ripple” effect of it spreading further – consequently new role, now teams, new interactions – and that deeply ingrained email habit suddenly reared its ugly head!” < Absolutely! That's essentially part of what I have noticed myself. That in my previous project I was working with a number of teams for nearly 6 years and I had a chance to help educate and facilitate our group interactions into social tools vs. email and I reached some pretty good results overall, going from 30 to 40 emails per day to 15 per week. But it was a limited reach: within IBM Software. Now that I am part of the CIO Office, and the exposure is much larger, and specially as that new role of Lead Social Business Enabler kicks in, plenty of folks who approach me through email are folks new to Social Business altogether and they have just been referred to me by others. Once I get together with them and show them how social networking tools work in a work context I stopped receiving those emails, so I suspect the same would apply to how I started back in 2008. It will take me time, but I'm sure the number of emails will decrease over time, once again. Time will tell 🙂 Yes, I, too, see it as going back to basics, but with nearly 6 years more of experiences and with thousands of other people doing the very same thing I am doing, i.e. relying less and less on email. So it's no longer that one man show as it was in the first couple of years, which is what I am hopeful that if it took me earlier on 5 years to achieve last year's results, I am thinking I could do the same in half the time, and why I'm optimistic about it, but the fun factor of learning plenty more about how people work on their day to day work flows. Great comments on helping folks adapt focusing on those behaviours and team work, whether in open, public spaces, or private, protected ones, if the information to be shared is confidential or sensitive. Spot on! Like I said, I can't comment myself on whether I am a good team player or not (I think I am), but I would have to defer that to the folks I work with. What I have learned though is that I am so much more helpful through social networks than whatever I was through email, since now I have a chance to "see" what people are working on, what they may be struggling with and help out accordingly, if they would need my help and support. That kind of visibility was not there before and why I am such a big advocate of that working out loud mantra all along. Goodness!! Very powerful story that one on relating to that awful natural disaster and how social networks came to the rescue vs. the email system going down. I am delighted and relieved to see the alternative worked incredibly well, making up for a really good use case on how people connected, work together and make things happen, despite of whatever may be happening… Very interesting reflection that last one on perhaps flipping the coin and focus more on the new behaviours / mindset vs. encouraging ditching corporate email. Indeed, worth while thinking about it further along and everything. Will keep pondering some more on it, as I am currently putting together the final touches from our adoption and enablement core program, from my team, and it's interesting to see how there isn't a single mentioned about ditching email in favour of social networks, confirming your hunch about focusing on those behaviours and new mindset. Yes, a matter of keep pushing things further along, indeed, and with my motivation and morale intact all along for it. Why? Well, because after all of these last 5.5 years, there is no way back for me other than keep moving along, walking the talk, leading by example 🙂 Thanks much, once again, for the wonderful feedback, Marie-Louise, and for the kind words of encouragement!

  5. Hi Luis,

    A timely post! I have been thinking a lot recently about email, particularly in the context of the havoc it creates to corporate memory and recordkeeping generally.

    Your example inspired me to propose an enhancement to corporate email servers where users would be issued a certain number of “credits” per day or week. This would allow limited 1:1 personal correspondence to continue while still providing a strong incentive to change behaviour. See for more.

    Would love to know what you think!

    1. Hi Stephen! Many thanks for dropping by and for sharing along that link to your blog post with quite an interesting suggestion! I have seen cases of companies where they have been experimenting with similar constraints, like, for instance, being limited to send just 10 emails per day and to encourage employees to choose wisely what those 10 emails would be like. Or other cases where folks compromise to respond to a similar number and ignore the rest, focusing on what *really* matters. In all of those use case scenarios it seems like putting constraints does work to a great deal, but I am not sure whether it’s a game changer in terms of changing habits, since I am missing the incentive, the *reward* that every good habit has.

      eMail has it, i.e. Inbox Zero (A myth, I know, but most folks buy into it), and putting those constraints without those “rewards” may fall short, after all. Think along with those limits we would need to come along as well with a tangible perk so that it can seriously challenge not just email, but our overall habits.

      Very interesting initiative, indeed! Thanks for sharing it along!

      1. Hi Luis,

        Normally I would agree with you on the need for designing systems to be rewarding, but I get the feeling that email is like chocolate: it’s just too tempting for most of us.

        Let’s assume that we can prove email does real damage to an organisation’s long-term corporate knowledge and problem solving effectiveness in its current form (which I believe in all probability it does).

        That means it ceases to be an activity of intrinsic reward and instead becomes a *value* that should be embedded in your organisation’s ethos.

        As an analogy, imagine the low-speed zones near primary schools in most countries. There’s no “reward” for following the speed limit, and in pragmatic terms to the driver it is just a nuisance and a burden.

        But as a society, we approve of and enforce these zones because we recognise the greater good resulting from having fewer injuries and deaths from cars near schools.

        The objective of the email metering approach is not to punish, but to regulate. Importantly, it’s human nature to work around rules we don’t understand, which is why any enforcement needs to go hand in hand with education.

        1. Hi Stephen, very interesting analogy and thanks much for sharing it along. Please do allow me to disagree with it, gently. Specially, on this piece > “There’s no “reward” for following the speed limit, and in pragmatic terms to the driver it is just a nuisance and a burden.“. Actually, there *is*. It’s a negative reward, the fact that if you don’t follow the speed limit and get caught you lost a bunch of points from your driving license, as well as a substantial fine for breaking that regulation, never mind, the potential injuries or deaths in case of accidents. So there is a reward in there, i.e. avoid getting into trouble by respecting the regulation 🙂

          I definitely agree with you 100% about the need for any enforcement to go hand in hand with education, but I would go even one step further: focus on the education / learning of those new behaviours. There is a great chance we won’t have to worry about anything else, if we take the time to educate people on how to work smarter, not necessarily harder, by making use of these social technologies.

          It’s a continuous effort with a lifetime commitment in terms of showing people how to adapt to those new behaviours and new mindset altogether.

  6. Luis, very thoughtful post, but by blaming email as the culprit for people not collaborating more openly, aren’t you putting the horse before the cart.

    Even in most collaboration tools, people can continue one on one communication using messages (I’ve seen people do this), completely break the workflow by posting tasks on forums, and break the filemanagement system by attaching files to messages and not uploading them to the right area.

    Is it about tools, or is it about people?

    I’m the Founder/CEO of a company that is building tools to enhance email to become a better collaboration tool. There are collaboration problems with email, indeed. Its too siloed, ‘signaling’ is hard, and structure is completely missing. I wrote about this here:

    I also blogged about why it is hard for teams to adopt collaboration tools here:

    To sum up, I think (1) how we use tools is the key problem, (2) collaboration tools are great in many scenarios, but are no panacea, (3) email, when used with discipline and enhanced correctly, can go a very long way.

    Look forward to your thoughts.

    1. Hi Niraj, thanks a lot for taking the time to drop by and share that insightful feedback as well. Appreciated. I may not have expressed myself very well on that article, but I am not blaming email for people not collaborating. I am actually blaming *people* themselves for not collaborating more openly by not sharing their knowledge in open networks, but by protecting it and hoarding it through the use AND abuse of email and that’s what I am after. Like I have said, many many times, email as a communication tool for a specific set of use cases is not a bad thing, it’s our bad habits the ones that we need to change in terms of opening up, and collaborate more effectively altogether, which we aren’t doing at the scale and reach we could using social technologies.

      Very interesting blog posts, but they still highlight a problem, in my opinion, that you don’t seem to have touched based on much: lack of business transformation into a Social / Open Business. Yes, it’s a matter of mindset and behaviours, it’s about the people wanting to collaborate and getting work done, but it’s been demonstrated how time and time again email just doesn’t cut it for group collaboration. As soon as you move from 1:1 into something else, it fails. That lack of visibility and the sheer abuse knowledge workers make of it is the very same problem I have been highlighting all along.

      How we use the tools is key to not just adoption, but to adaptation as well, altogether, and if we just keep moving around email trying to make it do what it can, I am afraid we just keep putting lots of lipstick on the pig, but it is still a pig. What you want is to influence and model new behaviours in terms of how people collaborate and share their knowledge and seriously email is not enough. At least, not anymore. The sheer complexity of our work environment makes it inviable when you are working with multiple teams, multiple projects, across geographies and what not. That strong sense of overwhelming keeps coming up time and time again, I am afraid, Niraj.

      Of course, collaboration tools are no panacea, but for that very same reason email isn’t either, and yet that’s *exactly* what we have done with email, where we use it for everything, to justify everything, and not just for managers, but for everyone out there. How many times have you seen lots of instances where folks use email to cover their b*tt? Far too many, which is quite telling of how flawed is in terms of generating trust to get work done.

      Like I said, email is a good community tool. But in this case, it falls short, time and time again, on how we use AND abuse it to collaborate since we just keep killing each other’s productivity with it, versus getting work done. The key message here is that it’s all about the use cases, and as such email has got 3 of them for which it is still very good. The challenge is to move the vast majority of the other interactions, where email is failing more often than not, and why the business transformation aspirations behind an Open Business.

      eMail, by default, is not open. Quite the opposite.

      Thanks again for the feedback, Niraj, and for dropping by!

  7. Luis, I agree to a lot you said here.

    My observations were mostly from a small/medium sized business’ perspective. At IBM’s scale, I’m sure there are too many moving parts. I quite get the sense of ‘overwhelming’ you talked about.

    1. Hi Niraj, thanks for the heads up and follow-up commentary. Yes, I think in this case scale matters, because thinking that for small / medium sized businesses the issues would be a lot less, since volume would be relatively low, but also the chances of people knowing each other are much greater in small orbs. than multinational corporate ones and why perhaps SMBs don’t perceive the same kind of damage email is doing to the corporate borg in terms of helping it “wipe out”, for good, all of that corporate knowledge when employees leave the company and their mailboxes get deleted without remedy. The challenge is how do we make large corporations behave like SMBs in those circumstances.

      Once we crack down that challenge, we should be all right 🙂

  8. Keep up the good work, Luis! The Force is strong inside you 🙂

    Please do not let any of the conservative forces (and there are many of them, disguised in many different skins, inside and outside the intranet) put you down or hold you back.

    It´s a tough battle. And the temptations are strong to hold on to old habits (I am no exception, unfortunately) but we know that these old habits are neither social nor – which is even worse – fully productive.
    So again: keep up the good work and continue to lead by your brilliant example!

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