6 tips to implement #zeroemail and Social Collaboration

This post was initially posted on the Cleverwood blog in 2014


After more than 5 years of a #noemail policy supported by our Social Collaboration processes, we can now look back and see the benefits. In a previous post to celebrate 4 years without emails, I explained how we organized the transition to the Enterprise Social Network, and today I want to share 6 elements that I find important in this quest for zero email and social collaboration.

We are still at the beginning of important changes in the way companies collaborate with inside and outside resources, I believe strongly that the Enterprise Social Networks are very strong enablers of a new paradigm shift. My friend Luis Suarez wrote in this very interesting articlethe #1 business problem from today, i.e. employee disengagement is at the highest levels possible, and while I firmly believe that social business and social networking can help alleviate such rampant issue with our knowledge workforce, judging from the results it looks like we are only now getting started

So here are my 6 tips for someone who would like to start or move to the next step of social collaboration.

1. Reducing emails is not an objective as such

My advice is not just to think about killing emails, the real objective is to better collaborate and to increase productivity of the various ecosystems in a company. There are so many better tools than emails to exchange information nowadays. We also should not forget that some tools such as a phone call are also, on some occasions an extremely efficient way of communicating. It’s a matter of choosing the right channel for the right purpose.

2. Social Collaboration and zeroemail as a means to reduce stress

Workers, and probably knowledge workers especially are receiving up to hundreds of emails per day. For some of them each incoming mail makes their pocket vibrate, and this 8, 10, 14… 16 hours per day. It’s not 9 to 5 anymore, but from bed to bed.

Good news for the HR department !


A well set-up Enterprise Social Network (ESN) can generate a significant change in this, giving a better sense of priorities and focus in the interactions with the various stakeholders of a company. The ESN will help avoid spending time in reading, contemplating reading again and answering emails.  Not that the conversation won’t happen anymore, but it will happen in a much more efficient way, in a given discussion space where only certain people are allowed according to their roles, interests, common projects…

Some other tips to reduce the stress emails are generating:

  • Send less emails : the more emails you send the more emails you will receive. Try the zero outbox approach, it works!
  • Group send your emails : try to work offline and then send all emails at once and less often, don’t send emails during the night.
  • Immediately switch off any push notification on your emails (pop-up on the computer, push on the mobile). You don’t need that, actually.

Don’t mix private and professional emails in the same inbox

3. Email is far from dead but please don’t start your day with email!

Email won’t die, at least not immediately. Email remains a very interesting tool for 3 type of professional activities : email marketing, first contacts with external stakeholders and a notification system, so let’s not challenge that part of the emails sent around the world (yet).

Social Collaboration can also help you focus much more. Example : you can for instance collaborate intensively in the enterprise social network during the first 3 hours of the day with all your colleagues without picking your mails that contains probably a lot of distracting items. Those items are probably important and interesting if you don’t get too much spam or useless emails, but at least you will have had a focus during a moment of the day with rich interactions but no emails. And everyone can wait a few hours, except in very exceptional cases.
zeroemailpic1_edited-1-150x150I met Dominique Pellegrino this summer; he works for EASI and showed me their CoworkingPlace tool. Their point of view is interesting, the integrated the concept of email in a social network. Goodbye Google Apps or Microsoft Exchange, they are replaced by a social collaboration tool. The great advantage on this approach resides in the fact that you have a very clear switch from one day to another.

My personal recommendation is to always aim at an empty inbox at the end of the day, mine has been empty at the end of the day since 2002 after I followed a course on Priority Management. As a matter of fact, if your inbox is your todo list, then you really should do something about it.

4. It’s not the tool that matters, it’s the process… and some training

Do not think that, because you have a tool in place, people will suddenly start collaborating in new ways and “social” ways. It’s a project as such and the largest effort will be found in training the people and dealing with change management.

As I said in my previous post, we decided to put in place “Space Managers“. Their role is similar to a role of community manager for Facebook pages or LinkedIn groups, they have an objective in their job description to make sure the conversation happens. They make sure for their spaces that the questions are answered, that inappropriate conversation are redirected, and also personally welcome each new member. Finally, they also make sure all the knowledge is stored in the proper way, using tags for instance to add as much meta information as needed to each piece of information, to each discussion.

We also foresee trainings for anyone joining the platform, as it is essential to train people on the best practices and the numerous options a social collaboration platform can offer.

Finally, we continuously think about the best way to manage groups or spaces. Even though private discussion will always exist, an ESN tends to increase the transparency of the discussion. Of course, this doesn’t mean we have to make everything transparent, but one should realize that when launching a discussion in the sphere of “lead & opportunities” will be read by everyone accessing that group. My tip? It’s easier to merge groups than to split them, so better start with a bit too many well-defined groups, and maybe merge them in a later stage.

5. Start measuring now

Measuring-mailThe good thing with the social collaboration platform is that you can use them to also measure the interactions between people, you will know which topics are actively discussed, who contributes most to what topics, get some trends about the amount of new conversation, or even draw some conclusions about your communities, internal and external.

In parallel, as I wrote here, I suggest using a tool to measure the emails sent and received to understand the amount of internal versus external emails, and the evolution of both. If you are successful in implementing Social Collaboration, you should see the number of internal emails drop to zero or almost zero. I would also expect a reduced reaction time for external emails, which is totally ok, unless for some specific roles where a reply to an email within a given time is mandatory, but usually I’m challenging very hard the necessity to answer an email within minutes…

6. Expect return on investment (ROI)

Let’s be honest, it will be difficult to measure as much as it has been difficult for companies like McKinsey to get to the conclusion that knowledge workers spend 28% of their time in handling emails. It’s a precise and demanding job.

In my experience the ROI or at least the return you can expect will be the following elements:

  • Positive feedback on transparency for new employees: you join discussions that occurred before you arrived as a new hire, you can immediately dig into the details, and there is no knowledge stored and locked in someone else’s inbox, probably deleted if that person left.
  • In the same way, you will also speed-up the intake process for new hires. We have, for instance at Cleverwood, 20 to 30 discussion threads that are labeled “The Essentials” and every new person in the company has to read them. This means our ESN is also the intranet where such essential stuff would have been stored.
  • An indirect ROI is the feedback I receive from our people after they leave the company. Most of them come back and explain the nightmare and the low productivity of companies using emails as triggers for everything. If we extrapolate the feedback that they loose a lot of time in emails, it means that we must win some time and money because of our higher efficiency.
  • If managed well, your meetings will also become more productive because there will be a discussion pre-, during and post-meeting. Social Collaboration can help you solve many agenda items before the meeting even starts.


I started writing this post 2 weeks ago while I was at the maternity hospital, watching my newborn daughter in her first hours. It then struck me how much lucky I am to have a great team around me, allowing me to take some days off. Exactly like when I return from holidays, I also enjoy particularly my choice to reduce the use of email to the strict minimum for more than 5 years.  No emails popping up every so many minutes and a clear focus in our Enterprise Social Network that I check a few times per day to be there where my help is needed.

Should you be interested in reading more on this topic, I collected posts that I find interesting in this scoop.it that you can follow, you also are always welcome to interact below this post, I reply to everything ! Not convinced? Contact me on @olbow so we can have a chat.

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