Quitting email to make you more productive?

Social media is opening up business to a new and more transparent way of working, says Luis Suarez


Just five years ago, very few people would have predicted that social media had the capacity to challenge the “king of communication and collaboration” that has dominated the corporate world for the last 15 years.

Of course I’m talking about e-mail which has reigned supreme. Yet today’s corporate reality is a rapidly growing trend for using social software tools. They are overtaking king e-mail, making businesses more open and transparent.

These social media tools are having a significant impact on our day-to-day lives. The urge to share information in public domains, to reach out, connect and collaborate freely, has provoked a rather unexpected perk. It has helped organisations open themselves up, creating a free flow of information both inside and outside the firewall.

Despite this trend, plenty of people would claim that the interactions happening through social media are rather trivial in the main, of very little substance and business value. That may be right, but the naysayers can’t deny that offices all over the country are opening up to a new way of working.

Social sharing, when occurring in the workplace, is becoming more focused, purposeful and is making a meaningful contribution to productivity. This open style of working was labelled a few years back as “narrate your work” by American entrepreneur Dave Winer or “work out loud” by IT consultant and author Bryce Williams.

Knowledge workers are more comfortable with sharing work-related items in the open, but they are also encouraging transparent working. There is an understanding that the more business-related information available out there for practitioners to benefit from, the better the decision-making. It is increasing the ability to share responsibility and accountability.

By freeing up information through open conversations in internal social networks, with a reflection on external social spaces, we are witnessing a new kind of leadership

We are starting to witness how those who didn’t want to relinquish their power – that is, their information – are starting to lose control. Employees are becoming a whole lot more self-sufficient and therefore question the traditional role of management.

It won’t challenge hierarchy, at least not yet, but it’s certainly going to help those hierarchical structures understand something very clear: the time of command and control management through your inbox is a thing of the past.

We are moving into a more progressive, refreshing and inspiring leadership where employees are more in charge of the work and have decision power.

They have to help address and fix their customers’ business problems without intermediaries and through a direct, open, transparent communication mechanism where customers, business partners and employees all get together in equal terms, earning each other’s merit and trust.

Does that mean e-mail is now dead? No, it doesn’t. It just means email is going through its own reinvention stage where we are going to witness its repurposing.

We are going to see e-mail transition from being a content repository and personal knowledge sharing tool into an alert, messaging, notification system (bacn rather than spam) of content that’s stored elsewhere on social networks.

We are already starting to see how, except for a few good uses, such as universal identifier, calendaring, scheduling and one-on-one private exchanges, e-mail is going to decline more and more by the day.

We have begun to witness how e-mail, once considered the king of both communication and collaboration, is leaving behind that paramount role and becoming a whole lot more focused, and of narrower reach, while social tools continue to open up the door into a whole new way of doing business: an open business.

What it is really exciting about this shift into openness and transparency, enabled by those social technologies, is that employees are finally going to understand that most corporate silos don’t need to exist in the first place.

They will see that as useful as protecting and hoarding your knowledge may well have been perceived in the past – we should not forget that good old mantra of “knowledge is power” – it’s actually much more powerful and relevant to share your knowledge openly so that everyone can have access to your wisdom, your experiences, your networks and so on.

Managing by e-mail certainly is going to disappear. By freeing up information through open conversations in internal social networks, with a reflection on external social spaces, we are witnessing a new kind of leadership. One that leads by example, that empowers and serves people to be more autonomous, with a whole lot more freedom, and with a superb opportunity to make better decisions together verses having to always depend on someone else (your boss, usually).

This is where the vast majority of businesses would benefit over time. They would become more nimble and be able to deliver faster responses. We live in a world where real-time decisions can determine the success of your company and accelerate innovation. Something that was never possible relying on e-mail alone.

Yes, e-mail will still be there, but only for a specific range of uses, mainly those confidential exchanges. We are seeing that social networking tools have taken over from e-mail and are redefining how we work. They are opening up not only our business processes, but also us, the employees. This will eventually help the corporate world to address an age-old problem – lack of employee engagement.

Socially integrated enterprises have been empowering happy employees to create delighted customers, all through the clever use of digital tools. Social technologies have just become the new overlord. It’s about time.