(WARNING: I do realise that I have already included a warning and word of caution throughout this article about the length of it, but I thought I would let folks know as well how if you would just want to check out the yearly progress report you would just need to read the first section and move on to other things. While putting this blog entry together, maybe the longest article I have ever written anywhere, I now realise that the main purpose of why I wrote in its entirety in the first place was more than anything else as an exercise for yours truly to go down the memory lane and see what happened during the course of 2011 in this area. That’s why I’m including this entry as part of the “Reflections from 2011″ series. Please do not feel obliged to read through it all, if you wouldn’t want to. Perhaps the best option would be to read each section every other day. I thought initially about splitting it up in multiple parts, but I wasn’t convinced by the end result, so eventually decided to leave it all as one piece. Hope folks enjoy it just as much as I did putting it together and bringing up some great memories from last year! Yes, after this one I’ll be taking a short break… to give you all a breather … Don’t worry hehe)
It looks like the series of blog posts on the “Reflections from 2011” meme that I have been putting together over here in the last few days keeps moving further along nicely to the next take with an article that I do realise is very much long overdue not just by weeks, but by months altogether! Goodness, if I go back to the last blog entry I published on this very same subject, it was almost a year ago: “A World Without Email – Year 3, Weeks 29 to 51 (The Email Starvation Continues…)“. Yes, indeed, nearly 12 months ago was the last time that I shared over here further insights on how that initiative of mine around living “A World Without Email” was coming along and report on due progress. Yet, for one reason or another, it didn’t happen. I mean, the progress report, because the initiative itself has been working wonderfully all right all along. So I guess it’s probably a good time now to finally provide folks with an opportunity to find out what’s happened in the last year of #lawwe. Are you ready? Let’s go! Let’s do it!
Ok, before I get started with that progress report, a word of caution though, I am actually going to do something different this time around. Not only am I going to provide an account on what’s happened in the last few months of living “A World Without Email“, but also I am going to be sharing a good number of insights on what’s happened around me, out there on the Social Web, and how other folks have been thinking, and taking action, too!, about living their own “worlds without email“. As such, this blog post will be a rather massive one, perhaps the longest I have ever written, so I have decided as well to split it up in sections; that way it would be much easier to consume, but please do allow me to warn you ahead of time that this post will try to summarise nearly one year of what I would call now a world wide trend to continue Thinking Outside the Inbox.
A World Without Email – The Progress Report
To get us started I thought it would be a good entry point to refer folks to the last article I published on this topic over here in this blog, where I covered the latest progress report up to Year 3, Week #51. And what a better way of finishing that year end report than sharing with you all the last week, i.e. week #52, along with the overall yearly report itself. All in a single place so that you can take a look into how things developed further during the course of 2010. I know, a long time ago, but still worth while sharing across before we catch up with 2011′s, don’t you think? Here it goes:
As you would be able to see from the above screen shot, for week #52 I received 14 emails during the course of that week, to make up for a total amount of 929, coming from 1167 in 2009 and 1647 in 2008, as seen in previous reports. And that basically means that I have consistently gone down on the amount of incoming corporate emails year in year out. Starting off in 2008 with an average of 32 emails per week, to 22 emails received per week in 2009, to then, finally, 18 emails received in 2010. I am not sure what you folks would think, but that is not so bad after all considering how when I first got started with this experiment I was receiving between 30 to 40 emails per day, which sounds like a rather substantial reduction over the course of time taking place very steady and at a good pace. I am sure you may be rather intrigued by now about what happened in 2011, and till today, and whether I have been able to keep things going at such rate as well … Or not.
Before we go on to that though I thought I would also share something rather interesting that I have discovered over the course of the years and that’s how the peak days and lowest days of incoming email have been reducing its figures just as much. Going from 63 max. to 3 minimum in 2008 to 44 and 2 in 2010, respectively.
So what happened in 2011 and till last week, since the progress reports are running from February to February every year and I am still a few weeks away from that cut-over date to finish off the progress report for 2011? Not to worry I have got some pretty good news and I can share with you folks some really good statistics as to what’s happened from week #1 to week #47 of Year 4 – 2011 of living “A World Without Email“. Here’s the screen shot of the report so far:
Well, there it is. I am very pleased to let you folks know that, so far, I have received 767 incoming emails for those first 47 weeks of the year. And that, basically, means that in Year 4 of reporting progress the average of corporate email I’m receiving on a weekly basis is now down to 16 emails per week. Yes, indeed, only 16 emails per week! And still going down, judging by what’s happening this week so far with another rather low number. Ohhh, and talking about low numbers, see how the highest peak of incoming email went down from 44 to 30 emails and minimum to just 1. That’s not bad either, since that eventually means I am almost there to enjoy a full week where I won’t receive a single email at my corporate email address. Wooohooo! Yes, almost there!
I am not sure what will happen with the remaining weeks till week #52, but somehow I feel that things will continue to go down consistently, to the point where I may reach well below the #15 emails per week mark that I envisioned a few months back. And that wonderful thought implies just an average of 2.1 emails per day! Double w00t!! Needless to say that I will keep folks updated on how things are moving along, hoping that this time around I am not going to take that long to give you that particular report. Fingers crossed things will go all right and will keep those numbers going down …
Improving the Overall Email User Experience
Ok, time now to move into the second of the upcoming sections I mentioned earlier on I was going to split up this blog post on, to make it somewhat easier to digest overall. I am sure that at this point in time plenty of folks out there are wondering what my thoughts are right now with regards to corporate email and to venture to state whether it’s got its days numbered, or whether we are going to have email lingering around for a long while. Well, 4 years ago if people would have asked me that very same question, I would have probably said that email would be dying a very painful and slow death over the course of time, as the Social Web and Enterprise Social Software tools continue to take by storm the corporate world as the preferred methods for knowledge sharing and collaboration.
Yet, first hand experience, and a few years later, have shown me that we may not be there just yet. Email is not dead right now, and it won’t be for a good number of years. At least, not yet. Like I have been saying in a good number of occasions, there are a couple of incredibly good use cases for corporate email to still survive nice and dandy: 1) Managing Calendaring & Scheduling events and 2) Hosting 1:1 confidential, or rather sensitive, conversations in a private manner. For the rest, there is no reason why we couldn’t have the vast majority of those email driven conversations hosted elsewhere, which is essentially what’s been happening in the last few months.
What we are seeing then is how email is morphing, and moving away, from being the King of Communication and therefore a rather powerless content repository (with a good number of issues I’m sure we are all rather familiar with – i.e. mail jail, finding missing content, losing email archives, mail quotas exceeded, attachments, Reply to All, etc. etc.) into an incredibly powerful social messaging and notification system of content that’s stored elsewhere, i.e. social networking, collaborative and knowledge sharing tools eventually.
But, like I said, and perhaps worth while repeating over here as well, once again, email, per se, as a communication system is not that bad; it’s actually a rather effective tool overall. What’s been happening though all along is how we have consistently abused it ourselves, left and right!, to adjust its way of working to our very own way of working (i.e. secretive, private, opaque, political and power struggles, cover your a**e, proof of work, etc. etc.). So if there is something out there that it’s killing our very own productivity, it’s not email itself, but our abuse of it that’s killing such productivity. Why? Well, because we don’t know how to properly make use of it. Hold on, let me correct that, yes, we do know how to properly use it, it’s just that we don’t do it any longer, because we have grown rather comfortable living with the current status-quo it provides: a corporate weapon for delegating work on to someone else, just as much as that full inbox of to-dos from people’s work and no longer your own. So perhaps we do deserve that misuse of email, since we don’t seem to want to break the chain and starting using email smarter, not necessarily harder.
I know how at this point in time you may be wondering whether I would believe, or not, if email could turn all around and become a whole lot more social. Well, I’m going to reserve the answer to that question for a little bit later on in this article, but I can certainly anticipate that Yes! we will, finally, see that full transformation from email into social email, although I can tell you, right now!, how we are no longer going to call it email, but something different… Keep reading till we reach that final conclusion on what it would be like …
The Naysayers & Denialists
Back in February 2008, and throughout the whole year, since I started this initiative on living “A World Without Email“, it never ceased to amaze me how very little email was questioned about whether it was still the king of corporate communication and collaboration. Or not. It was a given. No-one even dared to bring that up as a topic, and if you would do that people would think you would be crazy! (Like I was told several times …). How could we survive within the corporate environment not using work email to stay in touch, to keep in the know, to communicate, collaborate and share our knowledge across, store our very own content, etc. etc? How could we do things without email? That must not be possible! It cannot be. There cannot be any other way out there, for sure!, I was told time and time again … And fast forward 3 years, into 2011, and the number of articles, blog posts and whatever other publications trying to defend email from not falling off its corporate pedestal has been quite an amazing experience watching it through all along!
But who are those Brave Ones, you may be wondering, right? Well, here are a few of them and some of their rather interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring writings they have put together over the course of the last few months and still going strong!
Then we have got my good friend Prof. PaulJones, at UNC-Chapel Hill; one of the smartest people I know in the Academia world, and in general, for sure, and whom I continue to have the great pleasure of interacting extensively over the course of months during 2011 through various social networking sites sharing plenty of really good insights about his bold move of giving up on work email and instead making use of social tools. Now, one of the reasons why I have enjoyed the vast majority of those interactionsis because Paulhas takentheopportunity to blogextensivelyaboutwhat’s meant for him to ditchwork email and, instead, rely more on social networking tools to connect, reach out and collaborate with his peers and students. And he has been gettinglots of great press altogether over the course of time, too! Amazingly inspiring stories that you folks can follow up on, and I strongly suggest you do!, throughout the various links I have been putting together over here, just to give you a glimpse of how he has been doing and how he, too!, has proved, and rather extensively, how you can live “A World Without Email” even in the Academia world, perhaps one of the most traditional environments where you could say email rules just as much as in the corporate world. Time and time again he has proved that it is possible to make it happen and perhaps a good introduction to find out more about how he does it is this wonderful Prezi presentation that he put together not long ago where he talks extensively about it, and, most importantly, what it’s meant for him and for those around him. Strongly recommended read, for sure!
Of course, we have got a few more examples of those “Brave Ones“; Geoff Kim would be another one of them. Check out this blog post where he announced a while ago that he, too, would be moving off away from work email and still going strong at it, judging from his Twitter bio. MG Siegler (@parislemon) has been sharingplenty of interesting thoughts about his recent move of giving up on work email as well, and has beengetting some rather interestingfollow-upconversations as a result of it. We have also seen how incredibly talented and smart folks like Chris Anderson are finding it rather cumbersome and challenging to deal with email altogether, so he, too, decided to challenge its status-quo introducing the Email Charter, a rather interesting initiative, for those folks still relying quite heavily on email, as their preferred method of communication and collaboration, to save their own inboxes, and which over the course of time got a whole bunch of relevantpress and follow-up and which perhaps I will discuss some more about it on a separate blog post in its due time. But surely worth while checking out, no doubt! Specially, if you are still planning to continue making use of email …
And we have got more “Brave Ones” out there, folks! You see? This is exactly what I meant when I stated above that it’s a really really nice feeling when you are no longer alone doing something and people start joining you on their efforts on an initiative that they, too, feel is worth while pursuing further along, just because they would want to improve things on how we connect, communicate and collaborate onwards. And if there is someone out there who has made quite a difference as well with regards to this whole initiative of abandoning email that would be my good friend Paul Lancaster, over in the UK, who, back then, had the absolutely brilliant and unique idea of have a “No Email Day” on a date rather difficult to forget: 11th of November 2011 (In short, 11/11/11).
The initiative was rather simple and easy to follow: not to send a single email for an entire day on 11/11/11 and see whether folks would succeed, or not, and then sharefurtherinsights about it on what the experience was like. He put together a rather fascinating “No Email Day” Manifesto over at Slideshare that you folks can still go out there and read further on. It’s a highly recommended read that surely captures the spirit of this No Email Day initiative with lots of really interesting and relevant points as to why email is no longer the kind of communication and collaboration, amongst several other types of interactions. He also published a Twitter report with the outcomes of the initiative that’s worth while skimming through to find plenty of really worth while digesting reads on how other folks across the globe joined the movement and enjoyed a email-less day at work. Fascinating to say the least!
Yes, indeed! Mark your calendars, folks, for December 12th 2012 (12/12/12, for short), because we will be having the second “No Email Day” in a row and that, basically, means that we have got less than 12 months to take back control of our inboxes and start thinking outside the inbox a bit more! Oh, boy, I just can’t wait for that date to come along! Ohhh, and I am sure you may be wondering what my 11/11/11 was like, right, as an experiment. Well, of course, I didn’t send a single email; in fact, I haven’t sent emails in a long while! But it looks like folks around me were not very successful about it because I got one of the highest incoming numbers of email for the entire month!! Ironic, to be honest! But plenty of work ahead still if I would want to revert that trend for 12/12/12… And I am ready for the challenge! Will you be joining us as well?!?! We surely hope so!
So far this section has been about “The Brave Ones”, as people, as knowledge workers out there who have successfully challenged that status-quo that email has been providing for most of us within the corporate world for a good number of decades, but the really exciting thing from 2011 and with which I would want to close off this section is the fact that not only knowledge workers, but also different businesses and organisations are starting to consider, slowly, but rather steadily and progressively, and to a certain degree perhaps a bit too aggressive as well, transitioning away from corporate email into social networking tools, specially, for internal, behind the firewall conversations happening amongst employees.
Thus over the course of last year we have seen how companies like Intel, Deloitte, Lanvin, Klick, Notebooks & Gottabemobile, Nozbe or even Volkswagen (with a rather goodpresscoverage as well altogether, by the way) have already started to make their move into a corporate environment where email is no longer as relevant as it used to be, or come to the point where it is no longer in use for internal interactions like for Klick, Notebooks & Gottabemobile, as well as Nozbe. Whoaaahhh! Who would have thought about that, right? They are surely leading the way, but if there is one other company out there that has been both the traditional media and social media darling with regards to their quest of ditching corporate email for its entirety over the course of three years that would be the French IT firm Atos Origin who earlier on this year made a very clear statement, a new mission, a new goal altogether: stop using email for internal interactions in three years.
At the beginning of the year, around February 2011, we saw the first announcement from Atos’ CEO Thierry Breton, explaining and sharing further details, about what their company will be doing in the next 3 years to ditch corporate email. Slowly, but steadily, move away from it, specially, for internal collaboration amongst employees and, instead, rely on both social networking and real-time collaborative tools, like blogs, wikis, microblogs, instant messaging, emeetings, etc. etc. in order to slow down, quite drastically, their reliance on email as a productivity tool to get the job done, because it was no longer happening and people were spending far too much time just processing those emails. It was no longer effective enough.
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