Wollongong club group ditches email


blog We’ve been hearing about the potential for internal corporate networks to ditch the dated email paradigm for newer and more efficient social networking technologies for some time, but so far we haven’t seen many examples in Australia. One which popped up last week courtesy of News.com.au is this piece about Matt O’Hara, a club owner in Wollongong who has largely gotten rid of email for good. The site reports (we recommend you click here for the full article, and there are also interviews on Sunrise and the ABC):

“The CEO of two Illawarra clubs has taken the bold step of not only ditching his work email account but convincing employees to do the same and return to the halcyon days of face-to-face conversations and chats on the phone.”

Ripple Effect Group general manager of social business consulting, James Dellow, who is a key local thinker in the switch away from email and towards social networking, has more on the whole situation on his blog (in fact, that’s where we heard the news to start with — kudos!), including the fact that the business manager concerned, Matt O’Hara, has been using other, more focused online tools — such as Basecamp and Dropbox — to fill the gap. Dellow writes about the trend in general:

“Matt’s experience is comparable with other organisations I’ve worked with in Australia, where most office-based users report that managing email (responding, filing, deleting etc) can easily consume a day or more of their time. So I’m not surprised at all that Matt was spending as much as 25 hours a week on dealing with email.

Matt also mentions in the Sunrise interview that one of the bigger challenges of reducing the use of email has been how they work with people outside of the club. This last mile challenge means that we probably can’t completely eliminate email for the time being, unless of course we find a better way to connect people between organisations.”

I am 100 percent with Dellow on this one. Over the past several years, I’ve attempted to drastically reduce the amount of email I receive, by unsubscribing from as many mailing lists as possible, getting my details deleted from databases, cutting out ‘alerts’ emails from various online services I use, filing emailed bills straight to the archived folder, and even removing Delimiter’s ‘Contact’ form, which had usually only been used for people spamming me with useless media releases. The result has been that I still get a fair degree of email, but it’s usually only quite important email — the frivolous stuff which wasted so much time has largely disappeared and everyone who wants to contact me bad enough still has plenty of avenues (usually, social networking) to do so.

In turn, this has meant that my quality of life has markedly improved. I now spend almost 100 percent of my work life researching and writing articles — I do very little else. This, in turn, has meant that Delimiter has flourished and I’ve been able to spend extra time developing an additional site in Delimiter 2.0. Previously, I used to spend hours a day answering email. Now I spend only minutes, and my new spare time has been ploughed back into making great content.

Cutting out email isn’t for everyone, and of course I still rely on it extensively as a journalist, but if you do need more time in your knowledge worker-type business or job, I recommend trying it. To the extent that it’s possible, you’ll probably find you’ll get a substantial benefit back from your effort in this area.


    • I think you underestimate how much in email people receive. I’ve worked with people who have hundreds, if not thousands, of unread emails simply because they can’t afford the time to look at every single 1 of them. Especially if they don’t have a PA.

      • I often run surveys as part of the enterprise projects I’m involved with and its not uncommon for people to report spending days on managing email at work. Some people have thousands of unread emails in their inbox. I don’t believe its just about how people manage their own inbox – the problem with email is actually other people!

  1. As with many things, it may very well come down to your knowledge of the tools. I’ve read about and tested dozens of email ‘productivity improvement’ applications over the years, and I haven’t really found a use for any of them over the way I already manage email. Coming from someone who has over 50 email addresses to manage.

    I use Outlook connecting to Google Apps. Google unsorted is ok for my primary account, while Outlook has dozens of rules that sort mail into relevant folders. For example, one rule sorts incoming invoices into a dedicated folder, within which there are maybe 60 or 70 criteria. It’s simple to ignore mail from online services and subscriptions when it’s all sorted into a dedicated folder. Less than 10% of all my mail actually ends up in my inbox.

    Compare that to a Director I work for – he has several thousand rules in Outlook, maybe half of which are broken or invalid. But it’s such a terrible mess no one is willing to try to fix it. He creates rules from single emails. The deletion or moving of a single folder breaks hundreds of rules at once. The rules that are there don’t even sort most of his incoming mail, even though 85% is from previous contacts and does get moved manually into an existing folder.

    It has been a good example for me that regardless of the technology and tools available and the extensive experience and knowledge of support staff, some people are so unwilling to learn or adapt that they waste tremendous amounts of time. This guy works seven days a week including most evenings, but several hours a day must be wasted sorting through mail that one of his PAs (he has three) could organise if it wasn’t such a mess that he feels he is the only one that can understand it (he isn’t – rules could sort 95% and his PAs could check the dozen or so emails that need his personal attention at the end of each day). I’ve even seen him trial various email management platforms in the hope that one will be the panacea to fix his life, but they never work because the tools are only as good as the person using them, and he’s both technically incompetent and unwilling to accept advice or assistance or even consider changing the way he works.

    Now I’m not saying that every email problem can be solved easily or at all, but in my experience there are tools available (many that people already have) that can dramatically reduce the problem and time required that most people don’t make adequate use of. There are processes they could introduce into their lives that would cut out a lot of time wastage, giving them back hours a day.

    I think the problem is, most people like wasting time on email, convincing themselves they are ‘so busy’, too busy to get many things done they would prefer to procrastinate about. Email isn’t the huge problem most people think it is – it’s just the best excuse they have to avoid getting on with life. One their parents, wives, husbands, friends and bosses essentially give them a free pass on. When we start making people take responsibility for email like adults as a society we will have some hope of addressing the ‘problem’.

  2. I prefer email for many tasks, but as the previous poster says, it’s all about how you manage it.

    I have two inboxes I care about; work and personal.

    I get system updates and alerts from at least a twenty different monitoring systems to my work inbox. Rules filter the informational updates without notification and notify me of time critical issues as they come in. Old alerts and updates are deleted after a pre-determined period.

    That cuts about 90% of the background noise out, whilst still informing me of items that need prompt action. Anything else can be dealt with as it arises.

    For my personal inbox, I find a combination of gmail filters, tags and priority flags sufficient. This and Android integration was what persuaded me to move to gmail in the first place. I went from having an inbox containing thousands jumbled of mails, to a clear inbox with a tagged, searchable archive. The only downside being a loss of privacy.

    Genuine spam is usually caught by gmail and I never see it, mail I don’t care about can be quickly deleted from my phone whilst waiting for the elevator or standing in a lunch queue, anything else can be archived or marked for later action. When I’m sitting in front of a computer I can respond to the email that interests me and everything else (bills, invoices, appointments, etc) is still there, waiting for me to look for it.

  3. Face to Face conversations and email are not accountable inter-organisational correspondence and provide a complete lack of personal transparency (hiding organisational undercurrents of racism, sexism, etc.) when issues occur around who said what to whom….classic Aussie advancement to inter-organisational communication there, one step forward two steps back???

    • In the post I meant phone conversations instead of email, email when used effectively provides accountable and transparent inter-organisational communication.

  4. Reducing email, sure. Streamlining your processes, sure. Filtering the crap out of inbound email and sorting appropriately? Absolutely! But none of these things are ‘ditching email’, they’re just using it efficiently.

    As Boycie says, the approach this company has taken works fantastically for anyone who communicates best face-to-face or on the phone, but is crap for people who are most articulate & productive in writing (probably including most introverts). And it’s a miscommunication disaster waiting to happen, with no audit trail and no record of responsibility—but I’m sure some people prefer it that way. A written email trail is a fantastic butt-coverer… unless you’re incompetent.

    (Just to be clear, none of that is aimed at you, Renai, or anyone else who’s posted. Just a commentary on common office dynamics.)

    • @itgrrl @Boycie certainly one of the issues for this company is that they are in the hospitality business – so there more they get out of email and front of house the better.

      However, its not just about ditching email because they are better at communicating face-to-face or phone rather that email was creating unnecessary communication loops. E.g. 11 emails to arrange a meeting. So as well as reducing their reliance on email they’ve shifted to other tools to manage information flow (BaseCamp, DropBox).

      Ask any records manager and they will tell you that email is not a good system of record. Email audit trails and records of responsibility are often just used for arse covering, not accountability – you know, if I’ve cc’d everyone then job done.

      But this doesn’t mean introverts have to be forced to use the phone – just pick from one of the many hundreds of different tools that provide a more effective way of creating an audit trail. E.g. in my work, we ask our clients to use a simple ticketing system called Lighthouse, because we can provide a better level of service when issues are submitted that way rather than via direct email or the phone. Internally we also use a wiki and Skype chat. Email is still there, but its not the primary collaboration tool for us.

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