On the first day of work this year, I took the big leap. I activated out-of-office for the rest of 2013 (for internal senders only, that is), telling them to post on my board on our social intranet instead of sending emails.
It’s a bit like converting to an electric car while the infrastructure around you is geared up to service the diesel cars everybody else drives. It takes an extra effort, some people think you’re crazy and others cheer you on, but you do know that you’re doing the right thing, at least for the long run. And you can be pretty sure to reduce pollution (cc’s) straight away.
The questions I’ve been getting fall in three categories: 1) Why do this? 2) Do you seriously believe in switching entirely from mail to social communications and 3) Why are you so negative towards email?
Let me respond in reverse order.
Why am I so negative towards email?
I am not negative to email per se. I am negative to many of the ways email is misused in large organizations like the one I work for.
- The more distributed organizations become, the more we work remotely, the more unsure people seem to be that people important to you and your future realize how great a job you really do. I mean, a boss on another continent cannot see how diligently you work, can (s)he? The universal remedy seems to be to cc every Tom, Dick and Harry on all emails, just to show you work. I email, therefore I am.
- There is a tendency and temptation to use email as a way to throw tasks over the fence for others to do and then go on with your the stuff you’ve decided to keep for yourself. People dump tasks on each other, large and small, this way without first checking if people have capacity to complete them. The inbox has turned into a to do-list, prioritized by others.
- But most of all: Email restricts the spread of knowledge and inspiration throughout the organization and there are much better alternatives available today, both regarding efficiency and effectiveness. Email locks knowledge in
Do I seriously believe in a 100% switch from email?
No I don’t. There are still good and valid uses of email: many, but limited number of recipients, system-generated mails, confidential or personal information and of course forwarding of any such mails. So, instead of going 100% electric, it’s more practical to get yourself a hybrid. And of course, there’s still phone, chat, txt, meetings as well for communications.
Finally, Why do this?
I do this for the benefit of my colleagues, my employer and – of course – myself.
- Colleagues looking for information will have their queries exposed to my extensive network and not only to me. Anyone can respond, even if I happen to be travelling or busy. That’s a much better OOO-function than just a response telling people that you’re not around and when you will be back
- Since conversations on profile boards are visible to all colleagues (at least in a social intranet) – and searchable – the knowledge from these conversations become common property and we all become more capable for each such conversation
- For colleagues in my network who support others by answering questions in public conversations (like my board for example) this is a good chance to show their expertise to the collective of colleagues as well as that they are nice guys and gals. Is there a better way to build your personal brand?
- My employer benefits by knowledge getting shared and easier to find and by improved visibility of and ease of finding experts. Less time wasted on looking information that would otherwise have been locked into brains, hard drives or mail boxes.
- For me, finally, I waste less time on processing mails and feel less pressure to answer questions. I learn from more knowledgeable colleagues who take time to respond to questions on my board and my reputation gets a boost too as a valuable resource, not only for my own knowledge but also for being a hub for “the right people”.
A bit more than a month into this quest, it progresses nicely. My load of traditional mails has decreased drastically, I still have to “shift to diesel” once in a while but, best of all, my quest seems to have inspired others to move in the same direction. Colleagues even send me emails just to get my OOO-message to copy. I am documenting my experience, learning tips and tricks to facilitate the shift and also various categories of mails that are a challenge to get rid of.
So far, so good.
(Jag bloggar om detta projekt på svenska på IBM Sveriges blogg www.ensmartareplanet.se ifall du hellre läser där)