How We Killed Email: To Save Time and Sanity

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Email sucks.

For a time email served an important role in helping us communicate efficiently with teams of co-workers, especially those spread out over large distances, but too many people don’t know how to use email correctly and the sea of spam and bacon have made inboxes better breakfast menus than tools for working.

Fed up with the inefficiencies and annoyances of email, at least one tech firm has banned internal emails with a new “Zero Email” policy. The idea is to control overload of information and reduce the use of internal emails to zero in 18 months.

Here at Notebooks and GottaBeMobile, we may not be a 74,000 employee company, but in the past year we have killed off email as an internal communication tool.

This isn’t just a 20% drop but a cutback so big I was shocked to see an email from a co-worker last week. Even then it was a forward from a reader who needed advice.

How We Killed Email

No Email For SanityThere are four tools that make it possible for us to stop using email as an internal communication tool and take things to the next level. You don’t need to be in the same office to get rid of email, you just need to the right tools for your employees. Here are the tools that help us eradicate email.

Yammer

Yammer is essentially a social network for your company, similar to Facebook or Twitter. We use this as our primary means of communication on a day to day basis. This tool is our primary way of beating email overload.

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Yammer lets us send messages to specific users, the entire team or as a private message to multiple recipients. We don’t end up with needless Yammer posts though, and it is much easier to find a Yammer message than an email message these days.

There is no limit on the length of the message, and you can include attachments if needed.

The only downside so far is that Yammer will occasionally not update in real time, which is why we use other tools to communicate as well.

Yammer offers free services, as well as paid for larger corporations with greater needs.

Google Docs

When it comes to working on documents together, such as team reviews, gift guides, best of awards and anything that we need to spend a good amount of time organizing on the backend, we go to Google Docs. While Yammer offers collaboration on pages, Google Docs offers a better solution for bigger projects.

Here, we normally share Text and Spreadsheets, which we can edit in real-time at the same time. Using this tool, I have cut the working time on several projects in half, and we have been able to get more people working on the same document.

Google Talk

Every day you’ll find us signed into Google Talk to keep in touch with the team for short one on one conversations. When big events hit, we get a group chat going to organize things.

For groups, Google Talk is a much better solution than a conference call, because there are no awkward interruptions of other users. You just type what you want to say, even if someone else is already typing.

Day to day, this is one of the ways we assign stories, check in on the status of larger items and deliver a virtual water cooler where we can catch up with each other for a closer team.

Not everyone uses Google Talk on a daily basis, but at least half of the team is signed in at a given time. On Android Google Talk is built in, and on the iPhone and iPad many of us use IM+ to chat.

Google Voice

Another essential tool is Google Voice, but any phone that can text will suffice. We use Google Voice because it allows us to answer text messages on our computer as well as on any phone we have with us.

When Yammer isn’t fast enough, or if something is very important, a text is a sure-fire way to get the attention of our team. We also use Google Voice to route phone calls on a regular basis. Now that we have killed off email, we do rely on the phone a bit more, and Google Voice allows us to record calls for later reference.

Why We Stopped Emailing

The primary reasons we stopped sending emails are the amount of junk and the lack of speed.

Even with Priority Inbox sorting out the less important emails, we are still inundated by email on a daily basis. This makes finding important emails from co-workers difficult.

Often times, when we did find the emails, it was too late. Either we missed a question, or worse — employees duplicated efforts, which wasted time.

Aside from Google Docs, all of these tools have mobile components and are easily accessible from any device we have at hand. Yammer does a good job of delivery notifications on iOS and Android. While it isn’t yet perfect, it beats email notifications.

Have you tried to kill email at your organization? If so, what has worked best? What hasn’t worked?

Josh Smith is Editor of GottaBeMobile and Notebooks.com. He's always looking for ways to help you get the most of your gear and loves to talk about tech on radio and TV. Josh uses an iOS and Android devices as well as Mac and Windows Computers. Josh Smith on Google+ Email: [email protected]

6 Comments

  1. Mark Fidelman

    12/05/2011 at 11:29 pm

    Josh, I find this whole let’s stop email thing somewhat confusing.  So a few questions for you: 

    1. Not everyone is staring at a Yammer activity stream 24/7 – how do you know you haven’t missed something on Yammer that was critical to your job?  
    2. How do you communicate outside of your organization with suppliers, partners and customers?
    3. How do you search for historic conversations?
    4. How do you organize, track and store your communications with people inside and outside of your organization?
    5. How do you receive alerts (usually sent via email) from applications inside and outside the organization? 
    6. How do you sign up for any service anywhere on the web (which usually requires an email confirmation)?
    7.  If you’re working with external partners/suppliers and they send you information via email (documents, text, images) how do you disseminate that information to the rest of the team?  By cutting and pasting the info into Yammer? 
    8.  How do you deliver your work product back to said partners/suppliers?
    9. How do you notify people in Google Docs that a document has been changed or updated? 
    10. How do you send calendar invites to people internally and externally?  
    11. How do you manage projects and tasks without some type of email notification system to alert other team members to updates and changes?
    12. How do you communicate with a small group of internal people a message that you NEED them to see?  Not Yammer, it could get lost in the stream, Not Google Voice as it’s mostly 1 to 1.  How then is this communication stored for future retrieval? 

    I doubt you’ve stopped using email, even internally.  It doesn’t seem plausible.  

    • themaria

      12/07/2011 at 6:01 pm

      Hi Mark! Great seeing you here. Both you and Josh are right. Using email vs. a more social method of communication doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Disclosure: I work at Yammer, and thus have seen customers’ email volumes plummet as they introduced Yammer. At the same time, email still has its place, and I don’t think it’s possible to stop using e-mail 100%, unless you only speak to people inside your company. 

      You can certainly speak to people outside of your company via Yammer by using External Networks; by extending your Yammer conversations to partners and suppliers, you are able to introduce similar business benefits that you would get from using Yammer internally. However, even if you’ve driven your customer, partner and supplier communications towards Yammer, you will always have edge cases where you need to communicate via phone, email, Twitter, wherever they are.

      At the same time, Mark, I’d like to take issue with something you said above with regards to retaining, tracking and searching historic conversations. I’d argue that this actually becomes easier in Yammer vs. email, because you can only search your own inbox. You can ask your colleagues to search their inboxes for you, but how would you even know which one to ask? With Yammer, you can track a tag, search for a key term, use groups, etc. Even as people leave the company, their knowledge is archived and is reusable by others.

      All in all, there are quite a few tools that companies can elect to use, and there’s a use for quite a few of them. It doesn’t need to be an “email is better than Yammer” or “Yammer is better than email” conversation. As business users we need to collectively become better at identifying the use purpose and thus the medium and audience for each message. Whom do you want to see it? Do you want it archived? Do you want people to consume it in real-time, or also retain for posterity? Is it for ambient awareness of the whole company or just a group? Is there anyone whom you definitely want to see it? My rule of thumb: if I want a few people to do something quickly: email. If I want a lot of people to see it for awareness or discussion and I want it to be retained publicly: Yammer.

  2. themaria

    12/07/2011 at 11:50 pm

    Hi Josh, Maria from Yammer here! I just wanted to reach out thank you for taking the time to write this up and for making Yammer such a big part of your daily process. Eliminating email is a bold step, and an experiment that we are seeing our customers undertaking more and more. When you first decided to eliminate email, how did you do it? Before the habit formed, how did you support your colleagues in this shift? I’d be curious to hear what kind of business results this drove — are you able to find things faster? Out-innovate your competitors? Are you able to service your customers better? Would love to see which business objectives this maps to.

    On an unrelated note, you mentioned that Yammer was down for you and not updating in realtime. I’d love to hear more about that. Was this recent? That definitely should not be happening, and if you experience this again, can you kindly let us know by emailing help (at) yammer (dot) com. You can always reach me at maria (at) yammer-inc (dot) com

    Cheers!

    Maria, head of community at Yammer

  3. Simon Jones

    05/28/2012 at 4:46 pm

    Our organisation started using Yammer about a year ago. Since that time It has gradually turned into a place for company time wasters to treat as their own personal Facebook fiefdom and avoid doing real work. Email volumes (except yammer notification spam) has not decreased and I doubt that we will be paying for the website in year’s time. I doubt many traditional corporations can benefit from this kind of service. Leave it to the web 3.0 firms.

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