I was speaking with a corporate someone yesterday who knows someone that's given up email entirely and insists that all internal communication happen on blogs and social networking sites. Not that this, by itself, is all that unusual. Gen-Yers have been ditching email for ages, apparently.
What is interesting in this case is the individual involved works for a large corporation. He's basically declared himself unavailable in the email environment, and hang the consequences.
There's no doubt that email is a noose around many people's necks. I have terrible trouble keeping up with mine myself. That's because I insist on reading every single email, even if I am on a CC line. I don't necessarily respond to every one of course, but looking at my email stats (from Xobni– a tool you must have), I do a response for about 60% of the mails I get.
Also according to Xobni (which has all my mail for the last 5 years), on average in July I get about 1600 new emails a month, from about 500 unique individuals. So I'm writing about 960 emails to people in July. It works out to about 30 emails I have to write every day.
That's not so many compared to some people I know.
It is, however, a huge chunk of the day, since many need consideration and thought. You can't always flick-pass and file. And some of them trigger a pile of new emails before you can respond to the first one.
A cultural oddity of the bank is that we do back-to-back meetings, probably most days. So our email keeps piling up, and so many of us have resorted to fitting email processing into odd slots of the day.
I used to do mine on the Tube, attracting odd looks from everyone (I was the only one who ever opened a laptop on the tube!). But as I've just moved to Windsor (just outside London), I now do it on an air-conditioned over-ground train on the way to and from the office. I'm still getting odd looks, but at least it is more comfortable.
But back to the guy that's abandoned email altogether. I'm wondering how he is forcing all those other people to give up email to talk to him. Because I can tell you, I am so locked into my email tools and the systems I use, I simply would not move to blog commenting systems and social networks just to communicate with an individual when I can get to everyone else on email.
Forgive the hypocrisy from a blogger, but this is an individual that will simply be locked out of any decision process we undertake. Neither would he be invited to many meetings, which are also organised by email.
It is the corporate equivalent of going off to live in a cave and scratching in the ground for grubs.
No, any solution to the problem of email, must come from email itself, since so much of our corporate mechanic is now conducted in this medium. I use a few tools to help me: ClearContext is one, which knows how to score my inbox by importance (it deduces that from my use-behaviour) and helps with filing.
But when I look at my email, I notice only a small part of what arrives is actually communicating with people in an ad-hoc fashion, which is what email was designed for. The rest of it is doing business processes which have defaulted to the email platform because it easy and makes things look electronic.
It strikes me the answer to email overload is to find a way to elevate such emergent business process to actual business processes outside the email environment. Perhaps web forms with some basic workflow.
I am happy to use such tools to perform actionable activity. In fact, like most people, I prefer it. What I hate is having to do some manual process using email to put a veneer of electronic on it.
So it is convenient, isn't it, that the whole Gen-Y crowd who are dumping email are the same ones skilled in doing web pages and mashups. They can take all these things out of email – which they hate too – and make the work for the rest of us.
Update 1: Luis Saurez who is, in fact the person known by the corporate someone writes his comments here. Thanks for joining in Luis.
Update 2: Colin Henderson writes that to avoid meeting culture you should sack your assistant, and do everything yourself. I don't quite know if I will be getting rid of my assistant Lorraine, who regularly saves my life, but can understand his point of view.