Thinking out of the inbox – the changing nature of collaboration
Going to show you something I started around eight months ago. Been working for IBM for a long time, and have a traditional knowledge management background and for five years have been doing social media. Eight months ago told IBM that he was no longer going to use email. Uses social tools.
Average number of email is 30 – 40. Most people think that’s nothing. But have you thought what happens when you come back from holiday. Is it 30 – 40, or is more like 500, 600, 700. Many people just delete them and move on. Email is not the tool, it’s just a tool.
How do you live a corporate life without email? My company is drive by email. Most people don’t believe it’s possible to cut off email. Went from 30-40 emails a day to about 20 per week, and most of those are invitations to events and it’s hard to do that any other way.
Reports to two different managers, 6000k apart, and he lives in Gran Canaria. We work in a distributed, virtual world. Few people work with their colleagues in the same office. Always need to rely on someone in our work. We can’t do the job ourselves, alone. We have to collaborate. The reality is that we need to work distributed, so we need to start thinking.
Used to believe “Content is key – can’t do anything without content”, but now it’s rubbish. As soon as you press publish, it’s out of date. Because right after you’ve seen it’s published, you realise what you forgot to add, and your colleagues tell you what you’ve forgot. Before you know, you have to rewrite it. What is actually key is the people behind the content. No longer interested in documenting stuff, more interested in what’s in people’s heads, what’s not documented.
We are bad at documenting, so why not move to the heart of the matter, of tacit knowledge, communities, the place where we have and share a passion on a specific topic. Before he gave up email it was ‘me, my email, fighting the corporation’, now it’s ‘me, my community, using social tools to get the job done’.
Email does a very bad job. The strongest success factor in the adoption of social software is the community, it’s the group of people. You need people to share stuff with, you can’t do it on your own. That’s the power behind the community. That’s what most corporations have been neglecting for years.
Businesses are good, possibly too good, at tools and processes, but they neglect the people. They key is the people, if you don’t have people you don’t have nothing.
Most businesses have invested in KM systems for what? If they are unfriendly people are not using them. If you are harvesting, capturing knowledge, how much of your knowledge has been captured? 0%. Because it’s all in the head and there’s no time to document it. And now we have information overload, it’s not overload it’s abundance, and you decide how much noise you want to be exposed to, and before you get the signal, you need the noise and to learn how to filter it.
So, 8 months ago, said that he was not going to use email. Company said “What?”. Announced on his blog, and said which social software tools he was going to use. Triggered two reactions. In 2/3 days, had 70 – 80 comments. Reaction was: You are going to be so fired. Two weeks, and you’re fired. And actually did get a comment fairly high up “I don’t give you more than two weeks”. Reaction no. 2 was more interesting, was a group of people who said “Oh my god, someone who finally had the balls to tell people not to use email”. So I was getting much more exposure than social software tools. But had to take quantum leap in the way he works.
Had been thinking about doing this for about a year. Inspired by the younger generations. Summertime is busy at work because lots of people approach him doing their PhD, so interacts with people who are coming into the workforce in a few years. They do not use email. They think that email is for grandparents. It’s a formal way of communicating. Formality with youngsters doesn’t work. So watching these people interact with one another. They use IM and SMS. They live on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
In 2/3 years, baby-boomers are going to retire, with years and years of knowledge. People coming up will reinvent solutions, but they don’t work the way that the companies do.
These youngsters are going to be looking for companies that will allow them to use things like Facebook, and they will reject companies that don’t. Whether you like it or not, people are going to use these tools. Mobile devices can’t be blocked, so they can access everything. They aren’t affected by the firewall. There’s no way of turning it back. No way of turning it off. If you don’t catch this train, there’s no way back.
Decided to ditch email. Exposed to lots of social tools. Some from IBM, some from other places. Collaboration on email is hell. Emails go all over the place, people edit documents, someone has to merge all the different versions. Wiki collaboration is much easier – everyone has the same document, and put in the same effort.
If someone sends an email with an attachment, it goes in the bin. Collaboration has to be done on the wiki. Uses about a dozen tool, have diversified interactions, has specialised them. If he collaborates, he uses a wiki, if there’s an urgent question and email is not going to do – use the phone! So uses a number of different tools which allows him to specialise. Email is for one-on-one, private conversation.
No. 1 tool he uses is IM. If you get an email, you know immediately if you can help. So say if you are going to help or not, and if you don’t know the answer, admit it. IM allows you to respond to that straight away. People learn that he’s faster through IM, so they contact him via IM not email.
When someone is offline, he uses Beehive, an internal application. Allows him to leave messages on people’s profiles, which are public to both their networks. So if someone sends him an email, he leaves the answer on their profile, sharing it with their network and his network.
Uses a file share to store files. In IBM have email quotas, so any attachment goes in the file sharing site. Email is not a content repository, and has never been.
Also uses blogs and wikis. He documents repeated questions. Build up your own personal knowledge sharing tool. Good way to move away from email. So if things are public, someone else from his network can help people when he is away.
Creates lots of podcasts, screencasts, etc. where he shows how to use tools through stories.
How do you get started moving away from email. No. 1 killer is newsletters. So syndicate. RSS is not an email – email is mainly delegation, RSS is notification.
Last thing. Challenge your inbox. If it is making you drown, think, what could you move out of the inbox and start to rely more on other tools.