Quitting email is the first step into a new dimension of communications energized by organic collaboration where we share leadership. Quitting email means choosing collaboration tools that create a platform where everyone can be a leader. One for all, and all for one!
Email keeps you from being your best. Organisations struggle with e-mail. Productivity is decreased, people are stressed-out by a full inbox and distracted throughout the day by random emails, which makes it’s hard to focus on where the real action is. Instead, they’re busy sending e-mails, which generates even more email, and running to meetings. The very structure they are working in keeps them from adding real value to the company, or to the work they are doing. E-mail is an outmoded medium, the new snail-mail, and not much more than a letter that has been digitized. It's not a collaboration tool: it passes information on, it doesn’t bring it together. Online collaboration tools do, and they have transformed how we communicate.
As a young professional, I wanted to have an impact and make a meaningful contribution to the world. But instead, I was dashing to meetings and doing email in between, and afraid I would one day look back on a life spent running in circles. I was ready for total transformation. So, two and a half years ago, I decided to quit email.
Quit e-mail, start leading.
There is life beyond email. No more buzzing or vibrating, guaranteed to make you jump and stress you out. Quitting email is good for your heart and makes you more productive. It’s great to wake up, and not check my email. Imagine that! No more inbox in your life.
Today, we use online collaboration tools in organisations to work together. We use the company feed to access all the resources of the company, and we work in groups. Everyone is on the same track, and it’s possible for anyone to make their contribution when their time is right. That’s where insights and effective leadership come from. It’s teamwork in action that inspires innovation.
Quitting email is the ‘first domino’ in a process that unleashes ‘leadership’ and inspires collaboration across the board. Working in companies and on projects has changed completely. Before, knowledge was out of view, and dying in our inboxes. Now, we work together with an online platform where everybody can see what is happening. This new way of communication redefines leadership, and it changes the way traditional leaders manage their companies, teams, and project.
Leadership Belongs to Everyone
In the ‘old days’, the manager had access to all information and decided which information would be shared. Some employees got more information than others, and sometimes it was not clear who needed which information. Now, all the information is open and available to everyone. This has changed the traditional hierarchy, and the role of the leader. Everybody has access and is able to comment and communicate with each other. Information no longer goes through the manager because employees can now respond and give feedback directly.
Also, with this new way of collaborating, other departments are also invited to join in, so now they have a better sense of what is going on and are able to tap into all available resources. Before, a manager of one department would send an email to the manager of another department, and then that manager would decide what to do with it. Now, they can ask a question or post a comment directly to the people who are doing the actual work. Employees take on personal ownership of what they do, and that’s when individual leadership happens.
Knowledge is power, and in the new way of working power has moved from the manager to everyone. Open access and knowledge that is available to everyone replaces traditional, rigid hierarchy, making way for a more natural and organic communication structure within companies. Leadership is syndicated among employees, and the manager’s new role is more focused on facilitating.
One manager told us “the most challenging thing about quitting email, is not about never opening your inbox again, but letting go. You have to let go, trust your people, and stand back and give employees decision-making autonomy. Instead of telling them what to do, you leave room for a more organic way of working. It is really redistributes power across the board, and sometimes that’s scary, because as a manager, you have to let go. But when you see more creativity and even better results, you know it’s worth it. You don’t tell people what to do, they are able to organize the work themselves, and in a more dynamic way. So give people the room and space to move, and you can expect the unexpected. The traditional hierarchy is transformed into self-managing teams where natural leaders have the opportunity to step forward and shine."
Focusing on What Really Matters
Managers have more time to focus on what is really important, facilitating people to do their jobs well, or taking the time to drink a cup of coffee with them instead of running to meetings and checking their email in-between.They also feel less stressed, have more peace in mind, and have even reported more quality time with their family free of being interrupted by their email.
Everyone feels responsible for the success of the project, and employees are happier with this new way of collaboration and communication. But, it’s not only the digital element that gets people going. When you don’t communicate via email within your company, it leads to collective insight. For example, employees are more likely to grab a cup of coffee, and actually talk to each other instead of emailing the person sitting next to them or in a room around the corner.
The power to lead is open to everyone
People feel freed from their inboxes and have more time to do their actual work. It saves time and energy, and gives more focus to more important concerns for managers and employees. There are more spontaneous gatherings where people can share ideas and help each other in a more vital way. Leadership becomes more organic, and the power to lead is open to everyone. It’s worth joining this movement, and transforming leadership.
Everyone is on the field, together.
The group dynamics really changed when we started working in small groups. I know from my own experience as a project leader, back before collaboration tools, that I spent a lot of my time pooling and coordinating info from all the project members. I was the person ultimately responsible for the deadlines, and the project. Everyone did their share, but they didn’t see the bigger picture as it evolved. Their creativity was limited and their talents put on hold by the very structure we were working in.
The opportunity to lead
Now we have shared progress. Everyone is online with the project together, and everyone sees everything. We have to redistribute knowledge and the power that comes from it. When we share full access to knowledge, everyone has the opportunity to lead. The inspiration is contagious. When a member posts a message or picture of the progress, everybody is excited and it encourages them to jump in on the project as well. And that’s when the project really picks up momentum, and hits flow. We’re all in it together, and that’s the key. We all feel responsible for the project, not just our part in it.
I have seen how this new way of working encourages individuals to lead, naturally. It’s Organic Flow. Before that we were wasting our time talking and meeting, emailing and checking emails, when we could have been innovating. Now they are engaged. It’s even possible for people to start their own projects because they are able to connect with their colleagues within the company and make creative change happen. This is where added value comes from.
When I introduce alternatives to emailing, people experience for the first time a streamlined way of working on a daily basis that wakes up how they communicate, and clearly demonstrates why not using email is so much better. Within my projects, a lot of departments have stopped using email for internal communications and are now enjoying vibrant and living communications with each other. They realize that the new generation is moving beyond emailing or making phone calls, and have now started using the social media to get and stay connected.
Focus on progress
Another positive side-effect of quitting email is that I have discovered that focusing on results isn’t nearly as effective as focusing on progress. If you focus on the result, you move away from the ‘now’. And it’s in the ‘now’ that your ultimate result takes shape. The end result is the consequence of what happens along the way. When there is progress, the end result is coming closer. The whole team sees and feels the progress because we are collaborating online. In the old days, progress and success was literally dying in my inbox, now we celebrate our progress online, driving the project forward. A thumbs up really makes you feel better while doing your job.
´Jumping out of your inbox´ also gives you more control of when you respond as part of the team. Because project members agree on when something must be completed and the outcome, a nice side-effect of quitting email is knowing when the time is right to act. Why waste your time with email when you can directly join forces.
How do you work together?
When you quit email, you start thinking about how you work together. We used to send emails to each other, exchanging bullet points, and leap frogging from detail to detail. Now we talk about how we are working and where we are going together. We have overview. We are open to ideas and the changes they bring. We make 100 strategy plans, we work with 30-day goal and task lists. We share progress with each other, and fine-tune our plans as we go.
People with overview know when things need to be done in order for something else to happen. They help each other with tasks because what we are doing is transparent to everybody, and most importantly, people like to work together. The teams are spontaneously self-organizing. It’s not about a job description or title anymore, people do whatever they can because they are genuinely into getting the project to the next level. They care.
This new way of working gives people much more decision-making autonomy. We set our goals together and everyone on the team is involved and feels responsible for getting things done. They are much more engaged than they used to be in the old days when we used e-mail. They have all the information, including strategic and budgeting information, and everyone has a voice.
People working in collaboration energize each other to give the best they can, and bring the group to the next level. There is a strong sense of community in collaboration. People praise each other on a job well done. They can follow each other’s progress, and offer help when needed. Project team-members know where the action is because they see it online. When I started out as a project manager, it was only accessible to me, in my inbox.
Leadership is totally transformed by this way of working. Team-members are committed, engaged, and have more autonomy, and that feeds project leadership from all sides. In the old paradigm, one manager led the department at every turn. But in the new way of working, a more fluid and progress-oriented perspective kicks in. Project leaders are chosen based on expertise, and not on departmental status. Sometimes you’re the project leader, sometimes you’re a team-member. Team-members are now in a position to influence project leadership. There is no top-down power structure in this way of working. Knowledge is power, and sharing knowledge is powerful.
Leaving email behind frees people to focus on what needs to be done. When I was still emailing, I was always distracted by incoming email. At the end of the day, I hadn’t accomplished what I had hoped to. The incoming email decided what I had to do. The people who emailed the most, got the most attention. These days, it feels like I’m in charge again. I log-in on the online workspace and add value, when it’s needed. We no longer waste time wading through our inboxes and searching for information or attachments that have been buried alive. Now, what we need to know is in one place, online. Do the math. Productivity increases!
Email-free collaboration also transforms how we assign responsibility. We give board members or directors online access to our projects so they’re can follow the process and our progress. We don’t expect them to read everything, but they know exactly where we stand if necessary. We can also alert them online when it’s important to have their attention. Monthly bilaterals are a thing of the past! And by the way, teams love getting a thumbs-up from a board member or director.
No more boring meetings
We also prepare for our in-person meetings online. In our collaboration, we generally discuss a lot of things online, so everyone is up-to-date when we do meet in-person. We don’t spend our time talking about what people have been working on because we’ve already done that online. No more boring meetings that drain your energy by reciting agenda points. Now, meeting with colleagues is a real energizer. We’re happy to see each other. It’s more a social event, and we can get right down to brainstorming about our next steps, such as the next 100 day strategy or action plan.
People are astonished when I tell them I don’t do email. They simply can’t imagine a life without it, and are dumbfounded by the idea of stopping email within their organization. They look at me in a glazed-over stupor, and wonder aloud: “But, how would we communicate and get things done without email?”. Some of them tell me they are jealous because they feel trapped in their inbox and almost live there, getting up in the morning to email and falling asleep with it at night. All of them are ready to leave email behind. They just don’t know how to, but I do.
21st century skills
Digitals skills are necessary for most jobs in the 21st century. A lot of people need to be educated on how to work online together and share knowledge. So, we train and educate a small group of employees in using all of the tools for working smoothly in the digital world. We look for people who are creative problem-solvers, with social skills to communicate and collaborate in networks, and not necessarily specialists. These people educate their colleagues in the new way of working. This is a really simple and successful formula.
Just do it
Sometimes people are skeptical, and they come up with all kinds of reasons for why moving from email to online collaboration tools makes no sense, and I understand that. Quitting email is something you have to experience for yourself in order to become a ‘true believer’. Or, you can take it from me. A lot of people have joined the we-quit-email movement and it has changed their lives!
Would you like to quit emailing, in your heart of hearts? Here are some basic guidelines to help you get there.
1. Start with one project or team
You don’t have to go cold turkey!
Choose one project that you will not use email with. Take small steps!
2. Agree on how you work together: Choose your tools!
When I start a project, I always ask, “What is our goal, and how should we communicate and work together?”. Choosing email for communications means at least 50 new emails a week, so nobody chooses email.
We can now choose communication tools that fit the project and organization we are working with. We use collaboration tools such as Yammer. For online brainstorming, we have Skype and Facetime. YouTube and Prezi allow us to visualize thoughts, instead of writing and reading long reports. Basecamp is an excellent tool for project management, instantly providing project overview and insight. And, for ‘right here - right now’ communications, there is always iMessenge and Whatsapp. Choose your tools wisely...that’s what it’s all about.
3. Introduce the chosen communication tool to the people you are working with, and be prepared to show them how to use it comfortably. Start with one tool, and add tools as you go. It takes time to change behavior.
Make sure that project members use the new communication tool, and don’t waste time and energy using multiple tracks. When they lapse into their old habit of emailing, remind them to use the chosen communication channel. It helps if you don’t reply to emails with an email. Rather, reply via the chosen social media, and move stagnant information and knowledge from your inbox to an organic communication platform where it can grow.
4. It’s up to you to be there
Since quitting email, I always know where to go for each project and I’m not distracted by random emails all day. And there are no excuses like I wasn’t cc-ed, or I didn’t know, because everybody knows where the action is and it’s up to you to be there. In the old days, I could only handle 4 projects because no one can work 24/7. Today, I can handle 40 projects at the same time. Tennis anyone?
5. Change in mindset
In the end, quitting email is not only about the tools, but a change in mindset. Project members are more informed and targeted in their contributions because they share knowledge and ownership of what they do. People trust each other and are engaged as equal players. Everyone feels responsible for the success of the project and shares in its progress.
I can understand that it might be hard to see the benefits of giving up email, but I would encourage you to give it a try. Experience the difference for yourself, because that’s when the magic happens. And, I can promise you, there’s no turning back!
In the Netherlands the “we quit email” movement is growing. A lot of people and companies (including government) have joined the we-quit-email movement.