LUIS SUAREZ worked for IBM for seventeen years. He spent the last ten of those years in Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands. He first started working remotely after a massive traffic jam motivated him to plead for the option to work from home. He is currently a digital transformation and data analytics adviser for panagenda, a software company that builds solutions for IT collaboration infrastructures.
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His tips for working remotely:
- Stop using email. Instead, use social networks to work out loud and be more transparent to your colleagues.
- Regardless of what you do in social networks, have your own personal blog. There is no guarantee that the major social networking tools will be there in ten years – but your blog will.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Welcome everybody to today’s remote interview. And today, I’m talking with Luis Suarez about remote working.
Lisette: And the adventures of remote working. So welcome Luis and thanks for giving me your time to interview you.
Luis: My pleasure, Lisette. Thank you for having me here today.
Lisette: So I want to start out with where you’re living now because that’s seems like a pretty interesting story and I read that you’re in Gran Canaria.
Luis: That’s right. And interestingly enough, I moved here to Gran Canaria nearly 10 years ago and actually, I’m going to be celebrating that 10th year anniversary next month because on St. Patrick’s day, I decided to leave behind 7 years that I lived in the Netherlands, I moved to somewhere where it will be warmer and a lot more sunshine and I decided to go where I basically go on vacation for the vast majority of the time that I spent in the Netherlands. And that was Grand Canaria and I’ve been now for 10 years, absolutely.
Lisette: Okay, and you were working for IBM recently and recently just left your job so congratulations on leaving your job again.
Luis: Thank you. I was working in a company for 17 years and actually quit in February 3rd, and to tie in the story, I started working for IBM in the Netherlands in 1997 and I moved to Spain while still an IBM Dutch employee in 2004. And then I moved into IBM Spain in 2009, and then I quit IBM on February 3rd so that it kind of gives a little bit of history of how I was working in 2 different countries, multiple locations obviously, and what eventually lead up to 17 years.
Lisette: And did you start working for IBM in person in the office?
Luis: I did. I was actually working like I said before, it started in 1997 and I started working in an office where my team was 450 people on the same floor.
Lisette: Wow! That’s a big office.
Luis: I know, it’s a big office and we actually had like 2, 3 different floors if I recall correctly so were doing customer service and had people from like six continents or five continents and 40 different nationalities. We’re like a melting point of globalization so to speak as I call it. So I started working there. I was there for 4 years then I went on a physical assignment to Dublin one year and then I came back to the Netherlands and continued to work in an office for another two and a half years and since the end of 2003, having working remotely a 100% of the time.
Lisette: Okay, and was that a decision that you made with the company or did you say I’m going to Gran Canaria?
Luis: That’s actually a funny that most people don’t know. So I’ll try to keep it short. I actually started working remotely because of a traffic jam going from Rotterdam to the IBM office in Amsterdam. Now if you have lived in the Netherlands, probably in Belgium too, but if you have lived in the Netherlands, you know that traffic jams can be pretty massive. So the reason why I started working from home at the time was because there was one time that I was actually carpooling with my colleagues it he took us 5 and a half hours to go to the office. Traffic jam of 25 kilometers from [inaudible 3:27] at the airport and I thought, “You know what? I bump into my boss and my boss obviously was saying “Where have you been the last three hours?” and I go like “I’ve been stuck in the traffic jam. I need to work from home.” And he paused and he says like “Okay. You can work from home. I only need to see you twice a week.” And I go like “Why didn’t you say that?”
Lisette: You didn’t even think to ask him.
Luis: And then he says, “You never asked so I think that you actually enjoy coming to the office.” I said, “Well no, when I’m stuck in a traffic jam for 5 hours.” And then he goes, “Okay, well I only need to see you Tuesdays and Thursdays.” So this was happening like around 2002 actually and that’s when I started working three days from home and two days from the office. And in 2003, I moved into a project where my boss was in the States and all of my colleagues were in the States. I was the only one European. And I said, “Why should I go to the office if I’m always constantly working with you guys remotely?” and that’s when I switched for like 2 days in the office to five days from home. And that was like 2003.
Luis: So it was essentially a mutual decision where frustration of a traffic jam brought me into asking, “Can I work from home?” The answer was yes and the rest was history.
Lisette: And how did you start? I mean 2002 is still a bit early for the work from home. It’s still in the beginning phase of what was becoming popular. What are some of the stumbling blocks you run into?
Luis: Well initially, technology was one because we fast forward into 2014 and we take technology for granted, broadband, and all of these social network, and tools, and all of the collaboration tools. And at the time, I was essentially living on the phone and email and instant messaging. Those were the three main tools that I used to use for a number of years until social networking tools has started kicking off and so for us in the company around 2004 to 2005, we had some pilot projects going from 2000 already so we could do some work but the vast majority of interactions were happening through those traditional interactions. So I think once you moved on from the technology being a barrier in terms of not being as progressive as it is today, the other big challenge was the mindset. I noticed this certainly for me because I have always loved working remote but the mindset of the colleagues that you work with because—and this may still be happening today—I certainly had it when I moved from the Netherlands to Spain where people had that inclination that if you’re working from home, you’re not really working, you’re doing something else. You’re doing the laundry, you’re taking care of the kids, you’re cooking, you’re shopping, whatever. So people think when you work remotely, you don’t necessarily work anymore. So the biggest burden that I had at the time and it felt like always like I had to justify myself was the situation of not necessarily that my mindset but people’s behaviors and mindset in terms of like “Oh yeah, this is another remote worker from home and I’m sure that he spends all time in something else other than just work.” So those can certainly be probably the ones I would plank as the two most prominent issues when working remotely.
Lisette: And how do you build the trust because clearly, you built the trust and people started remote working.
Luis: I did and I did it through social networks. One of the things that happen with traditional collaboration tools is that you essentially don’t have the presence, the online presence so people will need to contact you through email, they need to send in an email to see if you’re there; whereas on social networks for instance, you are more proactive in terms of telling people where you’re working. There’s this movement that 4, 5 years ago called Working Out Loud.
Lisette: Oh good! I’m glad you brought that up.
Luis: So when you work out loud through social networks, you’re working out loud, you essentially, basically tell your clients and your networks what you’re working on. So you could say, “I’m kind of like working on this particular piece of work or this customer presentation or [inaudible 7:38]” which then means that I’m not doing shopping. I’m there. So the interesting thing is that through that working out loud through social networks, then you become a little bit more open, you become a little more transparent, and you give people better opportunities to figure out how they can trust you based on the discipline that you have, based on the commitment that you have to get the work done, and everything else, right? So to me, social networks have been fundamental. I can tell you pretty sure that if I didn’t have social networking tools from back then so say for instance 2003, ’04, and ’05, so just in the beginning, I probably wouldn’t be able to pull it off working remotely with just using email or on the phone. And especially when I will be telling people that I live in Gran Canaria because as soon as I mention to people Gran Canaria, the first thing they think about is the beach.
Lisette: Exactly, beach and umbrella drinks.
Luis: Network cover back then was not happening on the beach. You know what I mean. So the idea of how social networks have transformed in the way I work is you have the immediate opportunity to allow the people to trust my work by working out loud by telling everyone, “Hey, here’s what I’m going to be working on throughout the day. Here’s how you can contact me. Here’s how we can have dialogue conversations and everything else.” And all of that was facilitated through those social networking tools. I initially started with my blog so I was basically being able to work out loud telling people what I was working on through my blog and then I moved into the traditional and social networking tools [inaudible 9:11] streams and wikis and social bookmarks and file sharing and everything else.
Lisette: Interesting. So when you were using your blog, was it like a daily blog post that you would just put?
Luis: Actually, back then it was more of five blog posts per day.
Lisette: Wow! Okay.
Luis: Before, there were no social networking tools that had interaction that have the traction that they have today. And this is one of the things that I keep telling people about social networks today that when you start using today things like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever else, the barrier of entry is a lot less because you basically share short chunks of information; whereas in the blog, it’s a lot more elaborated, it’s a lot more condensed, it’s a lot more structured. And what it does is it allows you to build long lasting trust by sharing deeper thoughts; whereas in social networks, it takes you more time because you’re just sharing short chunks.
Luis: So one of the things that I’m really glad that I did was to start blogging before I actually dived into social networking so that helped me improve my writing skills by far because I wasn’t restricted by brevity so I could just let the thought develop for as long as the thought wants to have a space. And then also, it helped me build a community around the blog. In fact, one of the things that I keep telling people, to me, blogging is the most important personal branding tool out there even today in 2014. When I was back in IBM for 10 years, the various different projects and business units and managers and everything that I had, they came through my blog. I did not ask for it. When I was moving from one project to another, I didn’t have to suddenly share my CV or anything. I would just go and say, “You have seen my blogging here. This is what I can do and I can offer to your work.” And then people would be hiring me because of my blog, my internal blog which I started in 2003. And eventually, my blog became my brand, became the way that people could trust me in terms of the kind of expertise and thought leadership that I will share based on the experiences that I share, the work experience, and based on that working out loud mentality. And then from the [inaudible 11:29], I realized that when you start sharing relevant content, and you start getting people commenting on your blog post, you start building that community around you which is your network of tribe. And eventually, in the course of years, they keep following you. Now nowadays, I blog like maybe 2, 3 times a week because of the interactions that I do now in social networks but back then when I was blogging 5 times a day, it was massive. It was like having one single hangout place. It was the blog, each other’s blog, so we were commenting on each other’s blogs back and forth and we were doing trackbacks and everything else. And it felt like having one giant network of people interaction through the blogs. Nowadays, you have other blogs, you have Facebook, you have LinkedIn, you have Google+.
Luis: So it’s becoming a bit more fragmented. It’s also become a lot more niche. So depending on where your audiences are, you will go to one space to the other. But at the very beginning and that infancy of blogging, it was actually brilliant because it helped you build reputation faster by focusing on one single channel. And that’s one of the reasons why I keep telling people, “Regardless of what you’re do in social networks, I would always advice you to have your own space, your personal blog on the internet.” And people ask me, “Why should I do that?” and I say, “Well because there is no guarantee that neither of the major social networking tools is going to be there in 10 years. Your blog will.”
Luis: And essentially, the way I describe it is like having your house. Okay, so your blog is your internet home by way that people can go and visit you and they can read what you’re doing and they can come in and know what you are doing and when you go into various different blogs, you’re going into the different homes from different people and houses and everything else. And social networks is just basically like the party that you all go to but the party ends up at some point and then you have to go back home. So having that home like getting your own place where people can see who you are, what you do, what you’re passionate about, what you write about, perhaps even more in depth as what you do in the social networks. [Inaudible 13:34] understand how they can build those relationships and eventually drives you to do business essentially.
Lisette: Well your model also sounds very similar to the model that WordPress uses. I just finishes Scott Berkun’s book, Year Without Pants. And it sounds like the way they architected their communications and their company is very similar to what you did.
Luis: I know and the interesting thing for that is more and more companies are starting to adopt that kind of mentality because there are lots of, for instance, different benefits. And I’m sure that you know throughout the Hangout, we talked about it. But the fact that you become a lot more transparent and a lot more clearer in terms of what you do at work, also what it does in terms of the biggest benefit is it reduces the frictions. So people don’t necessarily go on [inaudible 14:20] all the time. They can actually go and find content themselves and they can just reuse them as they fit. So that working model of transparency or openness, of collaboration of knowledge sharing just for the sake of knowledge sharing without protecting or hoarding your knowledge, is all about having those and using those as benefits in terms of how you accelerate your business. One of the things that hampers is that it also transforms the way we work so work is no longer top-down driven so essentially, your manager executive coming to and telling you, “Hey, you need to do this.” It’s actually you taking the initiative with your networks in picking out the work that you feel you can contribute and get good outcomes, and then executing them and then say, “This is what we have achieved.” Now obviously, there would be some kind of guidance in terms of the business objectives but typically, what I [inaudible 15:09] people about that is that when your friends are starting to work for a company, you actually hire hardworking professionals. So they already have that guidance because essentially, that’s the reasons we hired them.
Luis: So basically, you see how work shifts from that traditional top-down hierarchy into that more network driven through social networks or communities in terms of how you actually do your work where people naturally have a tendency to gather around and collaborate working together.
Lisette: I listened to a recent interview that you did I think just at this conference you went to this week, E20, was it?
Luis: Yeah, the Enterprise to [inaudible 15:48] Paris, yes.
Lisette: Okay, yeah. I just saw the #E20. And the minute you said that executive management support is not critical anymore and that coming from the bottom up actually struck me because that really is important. It’s when the workers say, “Hey, no. We need this. We are going to work this way,” that the management of course, they’ll listen. It’s in the best interest.
Luis: Yeah, and like I mentioned in that interview, there used to be a time when I thought that executive leadership and management was critical to the adoption of the social networking tools in the company in the sense that without them, you don’t have anywhere to go. 15 years of experience in a large corporation with IBM, I have realized that you’d no longer need management. You no longer need executives. You can actually build up something bottom up as a [inaudible 16:41] and essentially, what you can do is you can inspire people. Essentially, what you do is you inspire people to take ownership and responsibility for their work and use the tools that they have for their disposal to network with one another. And I know that people will tell me, yeah, but you know we need to have executive leadership they are the ones we need to buy the platform, buy the social networking tool. And I go like, “No they don’t because if I don’t have anything behind the firewall in terms of an enterprise social networking solution, there’s no reason why I cannot go beyond that firewall and connect with people [inaudible 17:17] different social networking tools out there.” So it’s no longer an excuse. I mean I’m not saying either that you shouldn’t have a space behind the firewall. There are certain conversations that you certainly don’t need to have outside because they may be proprietary, they may be dealing with sensitive conversations regarding the intellectual property or sensitive content like financial details but it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the conversations that you’re having will be around that so you can leave the rest of the conversations that of public domain to have it actually on public domain and building up on those networks. What I’m trying to say on the interview which is also kind of my evolution in terms of how I have learned how networks work is that if you have that bottom up grassroots effort, if you have got people excited, inspired, enabled on how they can use these tools, eventually, they start building up a momentum and they start building networks and they start building stronger ties amongst themselves as communities. And there is a point where it becomes mainstream. And at that point, if executive leadership and management are not onboard, they are left out.
Luis: Which means that they are in trouble because they are no longer part of the decision making process. That’s what they cannot afford, right? And actually, I’m sort of like putting a little bit of pressure into the executives and management because I am telling them and perhaps this is something that people will want to see from me coming up stronger as we move forward but I’m telling them that if in 2014, you do not understand what social networks are, you do not use them, and you do not [inaudible 18:59] for them, I’m going to question right now your leadership skills.
Luis: You may not be the leader that you think you are. I mean the way to describe it is I can see how ten years ago, everything was new. Social networks were new. Even 5 years ago, they were new. So diving into them was probably not very interesting but 2014, social networking is everywhere. If you look into our societies on how they operate, you cannot ignore the fact that we are living in a social network, in a giant social network. We are all interconnected and it’s just a situation of how soon we can find each other. So if you as a leader don’t understand that, I’m the one to jump onboard and I’m going to question your leadership skills which means that you will have to earn my trust. The title is no longer enough.
Luis: And it’s what you share and what you’re contributing on those social networks. And if you’re not comfortable of doing it, there are two things you can do. You can ignore it which means that you will miss the boat, good luck with that, or you could ask for help if you feel that it’s too complex, right? And there will be tons of people out there waiting to help you out just as we have helped each other understand how it works. The problem is that most of those leaders and executives and managers, they think that they cannot ask for help because they will show their vulnerability of not knowing everything. I’m sorry. That’s a very poor quality of a leader that you don’t admit that you have limitations and that you can actually address those limitations with your networks. So it’s what I’m saying that when you start, the important thing is to build that bottom up grassroots efforts of getting people inspired to connect and collaborate through those social networks. And managers, they are just employees just like you and me and they will have to make a decision as to whether they want to go on jump in or not. To me, it is no longer a prerequisite to inspire transformation of the workforce.
Lisette: Well I think people maybe are a little intimidated because it’s supposedly very easy to start a Facebook page and to start putting content out there and I would say, “Yeah, it actually is easy just to spit content out there but to actually build a community and interact with people, that takes genuine time and authenticity.
Luis: It does and not only that. It takes also engagement because if you look into how the vast majority of management lying on executive line have operated that have used a podcasting model, a communication model. You are going to do what I tell you I’m going to do because you don’t have any brain. You don’t think. I think for you, remember, because I get paid more to do the decisions that you will execute, right? That’s the model how management has operated for decades. What happens though when using all these social networking tools, people actually respond back to you and they tell you, “No, sorry. I’m not going to do what you’re saying that I need to do because I don’t see the value. I don’t see whatever.” That’s when you start going with concepts like conversations, like negotiation, like who are you. Like I said before, the title is no longer enough. In social networks, it’s all about how you earn the merit and how you earn the reputation. And to me, my experience, the most powerful way of earning the reputation is helping all this fix their problems, something that teams, managers, executives hardly ever do because they hardly ever talk to people. They are living on their ivory towers saying, “Hey, we need to do this and you guys go on and do it. And if you have issues or whatever else, let me know.” There was no [inaudible 22:35] that happens there.
Luis: And I agree with you that it’s how do you bring in that authenticity, how do you bring in that dialogue and everything else but it’s also understanding that you are just one node of the network, nothing else, hierarchy in a network does not exist. It’s only about how far you can go in understanding how can you help the network be better with what they do. And I can see how managers and executives, they may have issues with that in terms of I don’t know how to operate when that’s [inaudible 23:12] how you can ask for help. If you go out there and you say, “I don’t know how to use this,” I can’t see that they will be hundreds, thousands, hundreds, whatever, people who would tell you, “We’re here to help you. Why? Because we’re also part of the node and we know it’s part of the network. We understand that even network needs to be operational, healthy, and engaging. We cannot have weak nodes. We cannot have people who just basically don’t engage everywhere else because we want to have value that extrapolates throughout the entire network. And that’s when most of management teams don’t understand that this is not about thinking that social networks is just another broadcast communication channel. It is actually an engaging conversational channel. And conversation is a two-way street always, always, no excuses that’s why it’s called conversation.
Lisette: Right. You’re joining.
Lisette: Right. So now, given that there’s plenty of technology that works for remote working, what are the barriers that you’re seeing for companies allowing their employees or people? What are the barriers or challenges that you see?
Luis: Well I think certainly technology’s no longer a barrier although some people will question that fragmentation may be a barrier in terms of having perhaps too many choices, too many options. I actually like to have too many options because I have always felt that it’s better to have options than not have options at all. And you can always segregate interactions and you can build different niche network so you hang out with everything else. So certainly, I don’t see technology as a barrier anymore. I do see a barrier in terms of the culture and I know that culture is a [inaudible 25:02] that is being fully loaded but corporate culture has still this flare that working is all about being in the office. It’s being at that physical space where you clock in and you clock out. And the reason why I’m saying that is because we still have got plenty of management understanding that working is me seeing you physically going into the office versus focusing on outcomes and deliverables. So the way I describe this is that most people certainly within a management line, they will want you to go to the office to do your work and imagine that they tell you you need to do this task. And imagine that you do that task in two hours versus eight hours, the manager that will want you to work the other six hours because you need to be presently there. And I have got a problem with that. I have got a problem with that because I think that what we are actually doing is we’re punishing people for being very effective. If someone is capable of finishing a task in two hours versus eight hours, he should actually be rewarded, not punished to be there the other six hours at the office. This is when remote working can extend because when you do remote work, you focus on the [inaudible 26:13] that what you need to do which is “I need to do this task and whatever it takes me so if it takes me two hours, it takes me two hours. If it takes me 15 hours, I’ll chip in 15 hours. So then I understand that I have work-life integration where by focusing on those [inaudible 26:29] deliverables, I can certainly get my job done while still have a life; whereas in that traditional working mentality from the office, it doesn’t happen because you’re always expected to do a certain number of hours which are never, never, ever 40 hours a week. We all know that we work more than 40 hours per week. So essentially, what you’re doing is you’re crippling our ability to have our quality time; whereas in remote working, obviously, the key theme that needs to kick in as well is discipline. It’s understanding that if you’re going to be remote working, you need to work from that time [inaudible 27:04] allowance if you want to expand. And then depending on how long it takes you to do certain tasks, then you can shorten it or you can increase it. So you do an act of integration more than balance in itself but I think that that still is a number one challenge. I think that plenty of people do not feel comfortable working remotely because they are still measured by what they look like and not what they’re contributing to the [inaudible 27:29] deliverables. And the other thing as well and this goes both ways. I can see how plenty of management do not like that because they like to see their people into the office but it’s also the other way around. Plenty of people cannot work remotely because they need to have the people touch. They need to be in front of people. They need to talk to people. They need to touch them, they need to rub each other’s shoulders, they need to share coffee, share lunch, and everything else. I can see that. I used to have that. But my physical rubbing my shoulders is now my virtual social networks so I get the same kind of trigger in terms of that human contact by interacting with people in social networks so the traditional water cooler concept that we used to have or the coffee corner is now into the virtual water cooler of the social networks. And to me, it’s just as fulfilling but I can see how for some people, it’s still maybe an issue because they still want to have that human touch, that human contact, right?
Luis: And to me, it was an issue because most of my team, at least at my last job at a company, were all in the States so I won’t need to travel 6,000 kilometers to see them, right? But because of the use that we made of diverse social networking tools, we didn’t have that need of constantly being next to one another face to face. We were capable of working with no problem. I remember for instance a project that I worked in in 2003 and 2005 where I never met any of my colleagues. We were using social networking tools and then never met any of my colleagues. And we were still delivering on that project and get the job done. But obviously, like I said, I can understand how for some people, that physical, face to face contact is still very much needed. To me, I feel that social networks help fill that void very substantially.
Lisette: Right. And I think there are certain personalities where it’s not good for them to work remotely.
Luis: That’s true.
Lisette: They need other people around. And there are personalities like for instance mine. I’m hypersensitive so that being at the office is overstimulating for me. Though I’m an introvert, I’m still hypersensitive so I have the same as you. Over the video, I have people that I have never met that I feel very close to just from that video contact with them.
Luis: Yeah. And I think what is interesting there for companies is to embrace our diversity, to have a very flexible policy where the employees can decide what their working schedule is and whether they need to go to the office because they lack that physical contact or they want to work remotely because they may not enjoy it as much as working remotely because if you look into a number of various different companies, they will tell you they don’t allow that kind of flexibility and their people have to go and work from the office. And some of the companies [inaudible 30:21] have total flexibility. And I think that we’re going to see how companies will need to become a lot more flexible and understanding that they need to meet the needs of the employees to get the best quality work out of them versus “You should just be glad that you have a job with us.” I’m sorry. That doesn’t work.
Lisette: Not anymore.
Luis: No, not anymore. I’m sorry.
Lisette: So if you were going to go from a time-based system where people are at the office for 8 hours and that’s how you judge whether or not they are getting their work done to a system where you’re more focused on output, are there any particular tools that you would recommend to people that would change that focus from time-based to output-focused? I mean that’s a part of the working out loud concept I’m assuming.
Luis: It is. And that was actually going to be my number one suggestion that more than focusing on the tool, focusing on the behavior. And the behavior is becoming a lot more open and transparent on what you do. For a good number of years, perhaps for far too long, we have been living that mantra that knowledge is power so the more knowledge that we share, the more of my power that I would share so I would no longer feel indispensable to the company because everyone else will have my knowledge. But through social networks, we are starting to understand that it’s actually knowledge shared is power so the more knowledge that I share with my colleagues, the more powerful I become because the more people will know about me, my skills, my expertise, and how I actually work. And if they need help and I can provide it, I will. If I need help and they can help me, they will provide it. So I feel like the challenge in this is to understand the mind shift that we need to go through in terms of helping people that we now have the tools for them to be proactively sharing their workload. And when I was at the company, I used to do this traditionally through activity streams so we had our own company platform which was Connections, still is Connections, and that has got the activity stream associated with the profile of the individual where you would network with people pretty much like we do with timelines like Twitter, or LinkedIn, or Facebook, or whatever else. And the way I would help people understand the concept of working out loud is I would tell them, “You could post multiple messages throughout the day or you could post none of them. I would ask you then perhaps just share one post and in that one post, tell people what’s in your agenda for the day, the meetings that you’re going to have with customers, the meetings that you’re going to have with your colleagues, dedication sessions that you may do, the actual to-do’s or actual items that you need to execute, or whatever else. That’s working out loud. Now when you do that, what you do is you actually first visualize it for yourself what you need to do for the day and secondly, people will know what you’re working on. So you learn that for instance, one of those items that you go and mention is “I’m going to be working on this presentation on social business for a customer in the pharma industry.” Now one of your networks, one of your contacts may come forward into your profile, say, “Hey, look. If you’re going to be [inaudible 33:29] that presentation around pharma in social business, why don’t you check out this one that I did for these pharmaceutical companies 3 weeks ago that I had some really good excellent feedback from?” Now that may be silly context and silly conversation but by there, the second person who has actually come forward may help save the entire process of putting together a presentation by the other person being proactively saying, “Hey, I’m going to be working on this presentation.” That’s working out loud. That’s [inaudible 33:58] in the pace of how we get the work done. So if we adopt that mentality of helping people understand how the more I share, the more powerful I become, I feel that we will be in a very good position to understand how remote working can actually have an effective use in the context of work around social networks because it’s no longer anymore being social for the sake of social. This is being social for the sake of getting the job done and getting the job done with your networks. So that’s typically the advice that I tell people in terms of how you could get started. Now obviously, once you start doing that and it’s just one post a day, you will get to see how you get the hang out of it. You start feeling more and more comfortable, you start feeling a little more interested in what other people are doing. And before you realize it, you see how you start posting multiple entries per day. So perhaps you can get a little more detailed or you tell people, “Hey, I bumped into this really interesting post or article, or whatever else that folks may be interested in.” And eventually, what you’re doing is you understand how interactions that used to happen through traditional private channels, they’re now happening out in the open network. And the really good thing about it is that it’s knowledge that then is available for all the people to find it and reuse it without even asking you. So then they can free you up to do some more interesting work or perhaps even work on more interesting and complex queries. So there is this constant feed in the network with content, with connections, with conversations that happen where everyone feels that you’re contributing. And interesting enough, I have sometimes come in people telling me, “Yeah, but what about these people who never post, the lurkers?” I say, “Well the lurkers, give them time. Everyone needs time to adjust. And at some point, they may have bumped into something that they go, “Well, this was interesting but I certainly cannot go and make use of it” but 2, 3 weeks later, someone else may come, “Hey, I’m looking for information on this topic. Has anyone seen it?” and that looker that used to be a looker can go and say, “Oh yeah. I saw that conversation three weeks ago and it’s here. You can go and find it there.” So those lurkers are just as critical as the active contributors. They just need more time to figure out how they can interact in the network.
Luis: And give them time to adjust, to allow new behavior. And people tell me, “Yeah, but change is hard.” I say, “Yeah, change is hard but it’s inevitable. The only thing you can do is you can delay it. And essentially, what you do is you need to find your comfort zone in that unknown area of participating in the network so that now you become comfortable and eventually you feel that they’re part of your work.”
Lisette: So again, another ground up.
Luis: Another ground up effort. And that one perhaps is slightly different because that one starts very much aligned with the work that you do so it’s not like you do your work and after that if you have some free time, you go into social networks. No. Social networks become the work mechanism that you go through. So essentially, you apply it to how you work on a daily basis. Now this is very interesting transformation because knowledge workers or basically employees will tell you, “Well, if I can actually use social networks for this, then I no longer need to [inaudible 37:26] tools where my knowledge was trapped.” And because they can associate it with day to day work with activities, with tasks like finding experts, sharing files, sharing presentations, proposals, newsletters, whatever it is, they’re starting to think like, “I could actually work this way.” And one of the brilliant things that happens from that which is again from that bottom up is that once you start seeing all of that free flow of information, people are capable of making better decisions. And if they’re capable of making better educated decisions, the management line may no longer be needed because they were the ones who were initially making the decisions. And later on, if they don’t jump on the boat, they will be missing the boat because the boat will not stop. Once you start sharing, you won’t stop because that’s the constant feed of the knowledge of flows that goes forward. So John [inaudible 38:25] talked about this from how we are transitioning from that knowledge stock so basically a scarcity of knowledge into that knowledge flow which is that abundance of knowledge. Now if you do have the information, if you do know where it comes from in this case, the networks, you will have an opportunity to make better decisions. And therefore, deliver better outcomes because you’re using the right information at the right time for the right purpose which is essentially getting your job done.
Lisette: Well and on that line, speaking of tools where knowledge gets trapped, I want to end our conversation with the topic of email and your quest of life without email. I’m so curious because I have email in the roses myself but also because when I was looking for how to contact you, I was looking for your email address and I couldn’t find it. I went back [inaudible 39:17] and said, and of course while looking, I saw your blog post about life without email, and I went back to [inaudible 39:23] he said, “Here’s his email address but I don’t recommend it.” And I thought, “Okay, I’ll contact you in another way.” So I contacted you via Twitter.” But I’m very curious about this life without email.
Luis: Yeah, it’s interesting because what I started as a crazy idea for like a one-man movement which was in February 2008 so just like a week ago, we were celebrating, no actually, no. Tomorrow, February 15th, it will be the 6th year anniversary that I have not used or that have moved away from email, I have not used email as much as I used to than everything else. Now I basically advocate for life without email. However, I understand that in some circumstances, we still have to make use of email especially when you’re having to deal with confidential content like a one-on-one interaction or calendaring and scheduling which are the two use cases that I advocate for it. But everything else, you can move without. In fact I have and I have moved 98% of my email interactions away into social networks. So last year, I used to have 15 emails per day per week which is 2 emails per day.
Lisette: That sounds [inaudible 40:35].
Luis: I know. So that was like 2 years ago. This past year that I moved into a new team and new responsibilities and everything else, that moved from 2 emails per day to 5 per day which was around 35 emails per week. Now 35 emails per week means two minutes per day, 2, 4, maybe even 5 minutes tops doing email. And then all of the other interactions, they moved into the well of social networks. It’s been a fascinating experience because plenty of what we talked here today have been empowered by the no email movement. Now, obviously, there are hundreds even thousands of people following it both internally and externally and perhaps not to the same radical extreme that I have myself but certainly a significant percentage. And what it has meant, it has meant to identify how there is a new way of working. And the way we lay this one is now with the “What next?” because plenty of people know now that I left IBM, so plenty of people are asking me, “So okay, are you going to start using email now that you’re free?” and I go like, “No. I’m going to be doing exactly the same thing that I did before. The only thing though is that before, I used to work in an environment like a large IT business and now it’s working in the various different social networking tools that I use. So I’m not going to be using email which is the reason why people can’t find it.” Own purpose. Yeah, whenever I’m meeting someone new, I never give them my email address. I tell them, what is the social networking tool where you feel more comfortable with? For some people, it’s LinkedIn, for some people, it’s Twitter, for some people, it’s Google+ or whatever else. And I tell them, “Okay, let’s connect there. I do have a profile there and do keep it up and running and regularly in content so let’s keep other conversation there.” And that’s exactly how they happen. The interesting thing from the no email movement and I’ll give you one of the main big benefits is that when I left IBM, the least thing that I had to worry about was my knowledge. Typically, when you leave a company, the first thing that human resources does is they delete your mailbox with the gigs and gigs and gigs of data and connections and knowledge that you have accumulated over the years. My mailbox was empty. My mailbox was gone and yet my content was there. My legacy was there. People can go into the internal social network platform that we use and they can look up my content, can find the conversations, they can see my networks, they can interact in my networks while I’m gone. That’s as good as it gets. From an individual perspective, that’s your legacy living beyond the point of you being there. And from an enterprise perspective, from a company perspective, the knowledge is not gone. The knowledge lives in the network which means that for employees who come and go wherever else, your legacy is intact because they transcend beyond the firewall. And therefore, the company, all of their precious knowledge that you have trapped in your mailbox is no longer trapped in your mailbox. It’s available to everyone else. Now obviously, the challenge now comes to me from the perspective I’m going to be independent. So basically, I’m going to be like, they call it solopreneurs. And people have been asking me, “Will you be able to pull it off now not using email?” and I have been telling them, “I’m going to try it. I’m going to try and work harder to see if I can live without email as well while work as an independent.” Now obviously, I can understand how I still need to use email for certain contexts like for instance when there’s no other choice. But again, if we do have a choice, I’m going to go for the choice first like we’re doing here today. You contacted me through Twitter, we went through the Google+ Hangout, we interacted through Hangout, and here we are having the conversation.
Lisette: Right. I think the argument for institutional knowledge is very compelling and I think that any organization that really thought about it would switch to this model as soon as possible because this has been happening since the very beginning of time. Somebody leaves the company and all of their knowledge goes with them. And just in terms of the evolution of the company and just in terms of getting yourself to another level faster, I will think that this will be very compelling for any company and so I always have a hard time understanding why the adoption is so difficult.
Luis: It’s difficult because change is hard. People have been engrained in habits that they’re so comfortable in there. They have certain flows that they find it difficult to leave them behind. That’s why I mentioned that change needs to happen in small chunks, one bit at a time versus just one abrupt change just say, “Now or never.” If you do it over a period of time, you will become a lot more successful. So for instance, when I started doing this no email thing, it was a one man movement. Six years later, the whole company now has reduced tremendously the amount of email that they receive.
Luis: That to me is a success. And people will know me as that person, the person who probably not kill email because I certainly have it but certainly the one who has challenged the status quo of how email has destroyed that institutional knowledge, right? And one of the ways of how I describe it as well is that poignant issue that we’re having now in the corporate world where the vast majority of the baby boomers have already embarked on retirement and the younger generations, millenials, whatever moniker you want to use, they’re coming into the workplace. And what’s happening there is that baby boomers when they start retiring, once they do is the knowledge is gone. If they have been using email, if they have been using instant messaging, or whatever else, all of that is gone; whereas if they start using all of these social networks where the younger employees or younger generations, they can transfer obviously not all of the knowledge because we’re not capable, humanly possible, but certainly a significant fraction to not make it look like an awful experience to see 10, 15, 20,000 employees leave your company with all of that knowledge, with all of that baggage. So to me, the argument is what is your corporate memory footprint in terms of what’s going to happen with all of your knowledge when you’re gone? Are you going to take it with you because you have been using traditional tools or have you thought about leaving a legacy behind so that people can carry on what you were doing? And from there onwards, the organizations are the ones that should be first interested because I saw a statistic no long ago that basically said a new employee takes about 3.5 years in a company to eventually become an effective employee.
Luis: Now three and a half years sounds a lot to me when most of these younger employees, they don’t expect to work in any corporation more than five years at a time. So that means that you have 1.5 years of good quality work from that particularly younger generation. So if you can accelerate that onboarding of the employee from 3.5 years into a few months, you’re going to have lots of good top quality work from that younger generation employee workforce before they move onto something else. The lifelong career is a history. It’s no longer happening just like job security. It’ll no longer be there. So what we see is that transition as well from the baby boomers who are obviously moving on than younger generations. And the younger generations have completely different expectations as what baby boomers do. And one other thing that happens is that organizations need to address the new way of working and thinking because they are the ones who will be carrying on with that institutional knowledge. And if they are not capable of embracing that, they say that we’re moving to these knowledge economies so what happens when you don’t have the knowledge to run in the economy as a business? So the challenge in there is very poignant in terms of “Can I afford ignoring social networks?” I will probably state, “No, you can’t.” You may delay it if you want to but you can no longer afford ignoring it. The sooner you start, the better you will be in terms of positioning yourself as a 21st organization based on the knowledge produced and created by networks.
Lisette: Also, recording your digital footprint as soon as possible.
Luis: Exactly, exactly which in most cases is very neglected by most people because they go like say, “Why should I care about my digital footprint in a company that I’m no longer there and that I’m [inaudible 49:17]?” and I say, “I don’t know about you but having experienced that recently, I will feel very, very sad if 17 years of my life will be wiped out just like that.”
Luis: That’s very sad and even more sad when you could say that that’s one-third of your lifetime. The second third of your lifetime is asleep. So two-thirds of your life are gone just [snaps] like that. Not for me, not for me.
Lisette: Right, especially when you’ve poured your heart and soul into building something.
Luis: Exactly, exactly. Exactly that, exactly that, exactly that.
Lisette: So I hate to end the conversation. I feel like I could talk to you forever. Wonderful. But one final question is I’m assuming you are on all the social networks, if somebody wants to contact you, is there a best way that they can be in contact or is it really what they prefer if they’re on Twitter, if they’re on LinkedIn?
Luis: There is better or they prefer. I mean I don’t have any preference because I have got a very heavy presence myself on purpose but the guidance that I’m giving out to people is if you want to have a quick contact, Twitter is probably the best place to find me on E-L-S-U-A, #elsua. If you want to have something longer than 40 characters that will require you to have some sort of like a private exchange, LinkedIn will probably be the best option. And if you want to engage in a conversation where it’s longer than 140 characters but it will be open to everyone, Google+ is the place to be for me.
Lisette: Great, good to know. Well thanks so much for the info. And I will definitely come back for a round 2.
Luis: My pleasure. It will be my pleasure and I certainly look forward to that and I’m sure that we will be able to keep up the dialogue online there. But thank you very much for the interview today and I’ll be looking forward to seeing you soon again.
Lisette: Great! Talk to you soon!
Luis: Thank you! Bye everyone!