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With the wealth of tools there are to communicate with now, if email were introduced now do you think it would be as popular? No of course not. One person who moved to shake the status quo whilst he was working at global tech powerhouse IBM was Luis Suarez. He shares his thoughts with us…

So you’d been using email since 1997 and 2008 hit and you quit. Why?

I got fed up with emails over a period of time based for three reasons:

  1. The system itself is not a collaboration tool. You end up not communicating with your team whilst accumulating a whole host of bad habits such as using it as a political weapon with the CC and BCC buttons which breeds angst in the workplace. Shortly put, it wasn’t so much of a tool that boosted productivity any more.
  2. I was being approached by young professionals from a social enterprise background to mentor their pHDs in the area. Not one of them over the years ever found me or contacted me via email. It was always via LinkedIn, twitter and we’d of course then link up via Skype or telephone. It was easy in my mind to see that they were the next generation of workers and they’re already not communicating via email, as the existing workforce I thought we needed to get our act together and catch up.
  3. In terms of pushing new work forwards to raise the bottom line I would be met with ‘I don’t have time for this, emails take up between 3-5 hours of my day.’ I found that people were working longer hours just to fit their actual work around replying to their emails. No company is going to reap benefits from this framework.

What was the reaction to your decision to quit?

It was very 50/50 – half of the people around me told me that I would be fired within two weeks and the other half were curious to see if it could work.

I quickly demonstrated that through the use of other tools I could work smarter, not harder and my role at IBM evolved to focus reducing emails substantially through a #getsimple campaign, a campaign that is still running today. A reduction from 30/40 emails per day to only 5 per week is a substantial and time saving difference.

It might not sound so crazy today but back then I really felt like I was a one man show – a guy with a crazy idea to do more work and less email. I started blogging about my journey and connected with others online who also shared the same beliefs as I did. One of those truly interesting connections was Paul Jones, a professor at the University of Carolina. He’d also quit email and penned the #noemail riot online. Obviously talking with Claire Burge as well made me realise that no matter what background or vocation, the problems with email were exactly the same.

With no email to connect with, do you find that you’re spending more time checking all of the other platforms for notifications?

I tend to point people towards my twitter account when I meet them. This raises a serious point that people need to realise. Just because you don’t have email doesn’t mean that you need to be on every single social platform known to man. Pick the ones that truly work for you. For example, LinkedIn and Facebook were starting to distract and annoy me so I gave them up and now I connect with people via twitter, Google+ and instagram.

What would be your one piece of golden advice?

Choose your method of how you want people to connect with you and run with it.

Are your connections more purposeful?

Wow yes. There’s definitely such a difference – people contact me now in a succinct manner and with real creative purpose. With emails there’s a whole polite and tentative process and most people take a few times to get to the point. This can take and waste days.

Do you find having these multiple platforms causes you to be disorganised?

No – our brains make decisions in fragments so to have specific connections in different places only services to compartmentalise our minds. Someone may have sent you an email years ago with an important document attached to it – can you still find it now? Does it even exist? Take the document out of email and file it in drop box and you’ll have it there forever, easily accessible.

When email was launched it was the only quick option to communicate around the world, now we have dozens of options – if you think email was launched today amidst all of these other real-time apps do you think it would be as successful? No of course it wouldn’t. Its limitations would shine through and be obvious. There’s an entire army of tools ready to replace it. We’re so used to dealing with them now but the status quo is changing.

Do you think that giving up email can be done cold turkey?

When I first started on my journey I definitely believed that it could be done cold turkey and whilst the end result of no email was and remains my mission, however, you have to factor in that not every human shares the same mindset or belief as you.

To reduce email means breaking a habit and that takes time – I always say to people give yourself five weeks to effect this change. It takes time to learn the new options that are available to you and yet I can 100% say that when people have switched to using a new way of managing their tasks and saved 40% of their time, per day, they have never looked back.

How has giving up email affected your life?

My passion is to see people change and grow and since setting up on my own in this business last year I now help companies with circa 70k employees to work smarter, not harder.  Most of them contact me because they’ve purchased a social enterprise tool and they want to know how to use it to its potential and get everyone on board with it or, they’ve purchased a new platform and failed to integrate it properly into their company structure and need that fixing.

What is the mantra you try and instil?

‘Don’t think of efficiency, think of effectiveness.’ There’s got to come a point where you’re more focused on the latter.

Do you notice a change in people when they don’t use email?

Yes. The comparison can be quite stark. One of the first questions I ask a company is what is your employee engagement? Often it’s measured at around 50% which is awful really. That means that they’re spending half of their entire day not working productively. I often hear ‘I must clear my inbox or else I’ll be in trouble.’ Trouble of what, doing your job? It’s a crazy mentality that we’ve got lost in our inboxes and shut off time to be productive outside of them.

So your work is really re-shaping the mindsets of the future…

Yes definitely. The younger generations of the new workforce are already there. Working within task management systems creates transparency and greater collaboration – we’ve changed the adage knowledge is power to knowledge shared is power.

The spectrum of how you can collaborate has changed. Not back and forth with emails, just sit down, collaborate and achieve.

Thanks for sharing your #noemail journey with us Luis… Click here to view Claire and Luis’ lively vodcasts on life with #noemail