Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Delete email. Not email messages. Email altogether.

On February 11, @lucienengelen (Lucien Engelen) announced to his world that he would stop reading and replying to email as of April 2.  As he later noted:

After I previously attempted to make my work more focussed in other ways it turned out to a large extent that 250 to 300 emails a day made this impossible.

An analysis of my incoming emails taught me that some 70 percent of the information sent to me also was also on our intranet. It was clear that email was increasingly used as a some kind of chat — some up to 10 other messages cc'd to easily 10 people each. For that, I think, we have other more appropriate tools, such as our UMCN, Yammer or social media.

I therefore decided to stop email. Just stop. Not just bcc or cc, but everything. Now you might think: "One can’t just stop" — and that is true. This would not be possible for everyone, but it fits with my role as bit of a rebel (with a cause ;-).

In support of this decision, he posted this marvelous video called "Business Practices that Refuse to Die: #No. 44, Email."

How'd it go?  Very well.  Lucien summarizes:

I can firmly tell you that it already saves me a lot of time: approximately 1.5 to 2 hours per day. In addition to that, my colleagues are surprised that I can find time time for a cup of coffee, pick-up the phone and respond to messages more swiftly through other channels like social media.

I'm not quite this far along, but I am sympathetic.  Beyond the inherent flaws in email as a tool for collaboration, it is also a tool for avoiding personal interaction.  It is an enabler of passive aggressive behavior.  If I hadn't left my hospital job, I was planning on an experiment:  Asking people not to use email every Monday.  I was looking forward to the idea that a person with an idea, a suggestion, a comment, or a complaint would have to get up and walk a few meters to talk to another person.  I felt that people would quickly solve their problems or share ideas and do so in a manner that would avoid the "email trees" described in the video.  By looking at one another, too, they would send subtle messages using body language, tone, and humor that are not possible in email messages.  There would be fewer misunderstandings.  People would get to know, and maybe even like, one another.

In my book Goal Play!, I tell the story of how we used to arrange informal dinners for the managers at BIDMC.

We'd get a group of 15 to 20 mid-level managers to an off-site location for conversation, group games (like “two truths and a lie” and Trivial Pursuit), dinner, and wine to get to know one another. 

For us, the game gatherings, of which there were several, were a great opportunity for people to open up and relate in new ways.

“I have been sending you emails for five years, but I never met you,” was one typical reaction. “You go hang-gliding!” said another. “You have how many children?!” would be another.

People got to know one another as individuals and members of their community, separate from their work responsibilities. They discovered that they enjoyed each other’s company. Later, back in the office, they remembered and treated one another with much less of a bureaucratic attitude. They became more helpful, considerate, and empathic towards their colleagues.

Think about it. The supposedly utilitarian and powerful connecting force of email had become perverted into a means for keeping people separate.  We have to start breaking this down.  Bravo to Lucien for going the distance by risking an alternative view of the world.

1 comment:

clsmt said...

This only works if people answer their phone. Also, sending documents through e-mail is a much more ecological way of dealing with data. I wouldn't give up e-mail for the world. I would happily toss my phone.