Knowledge Cafe: Could you stop using e-mail?

Published by Richard Hare on

Last night I went along to the first London Gurteen Knowledge Cafe for some time. I enjoy meeting up with my peers in the Knowledge Management field and learning about what they’re doing, as well as talking about my own work.

I was particularly interested in this session because I wanted to hear Luis Suarez talk about his nine-month battle against corporate e-mail as chronicled on his blog “Thinking Outside The Inbox“. As you might expect from a someone who has chosen to forge a new path, Luis is quite zealous in his anti-e-mail stance. And it seems to be working. From receiving 30-40 e-mails a day, he is now down to around 20-30 per week, with an all-time record low of just 13 in one week.

Luis began by telling everyone through his internal blog that he would no longer reply to e-mail. As Suw Charman-Anderson’s summary of Luis’s presentation at the Unicom conference that afternoon tells, this provoked comments ranging in tone from “you’ll be fired in two weeks” to “finally, someone has stood up to the corporate e-mail monster!” Suw’s post also includes some useful insights into the way IBM uses technology internally. There are quotas on people’s e-mail file sizes, so people share files through a file-sharing repository. Luis uses blogs and wikis to document questions which recur, thus building up a personal knowledge sharing tool, which means people from his network can answer questions when he is away.

Luis’s stance raised the hackles of some of the audience. During all three conversations I was involved in, people were quite adamant about not giving up e-mail. They insisted e-mail was a good tool if you used it properly, while conceding that few people are actually trained to do so. They felt e-mail was good for point-to-point communication, but not one-to-many or many-to-many and that we should use the right tool for the job, not just throw out e-mail altogether. We discussed serendipity, which Joe said “…got you to where you wouldn’t go if you were being efficient.” (Ray liked this a lot.) The standout comment for me was probably: “E-mail is a tool to hide away from your responsibilities as a professional.”

While there was no overall consensus and the conversation meandered somewhat, it was interesting to note how few technologies people advanced as an alternative to e-mail. Luis talked about instant messaging, blogs, communities and social networking tools, but the only technology I recall being mentioned in our discussions was Skype.

I left feeling it would take more imagingation than this to break an addiction to corporate e-mail.


FleaCircusDirector · October 27, 2008 at 3:21 pm

Yes it is possible to cut down on email by better use of notification tools and collaboration tools. For a notification example I’d much rather subscribe to an RSS feed than be on an email list. I’m a big fan of feeds as they can be searched, aggregated and filtered before I read them (using tools such as Yahoo Pipes). For collaboration, wikis and blogs are great and web access to shared database systems (customer management, fault tracking etc) are also very productive. I’ve also used IM whilst on site to communicate to collegues back in the UK.

Email does provide the ability to have complex and dynamic workflows that other systems do not currently support, “please check with the client before replying”. The are also much better at providing an audit trail than telephone calls and can solve the problem of a lack of hetrogeneous searching. They can also provide offline collaboration where a client or user is on a disonnected system.

Richard Hare · November 11, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Wikis are the last major collaboration tool we’ve yet to experiment with internally. The problem seems to be getting people to understand what we could be doing with them – as soon as you mention wikis, they go “wikipedia… we could have a glossary!” The idea of collaborative writing is a little advanced at the moment, but I’m sure we’ll get there.

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