Luis Suarez is a self-proclaimed “digital nomad” who lives in the Canary Islands of Spain. You can learn a lot from a man who’s working in paradise and “living the dream.”
For example, Luis hasn’t used corporate email in the last 11 years.
Moreover, it is not because he is unfamiliar with it. As the Digital Transformation and Data Analytics Advisor at Panagenda, Luis examines data from email systems for a living. He turned his back on email more than a decade ago and hasn’t looked back. He will tell you that his professional work with email has only confirmed his decision.
We interviewed Luis on our podcast, and he talked about why we shouldn’t be afraid to come out from behind the firewall. He talked about why not using email is less about the tool and more about mindset. He also talked about how different generations and working styles are affected by the technology they use.
Here are the main takeaways from an interview with a man who’s working in paradise and living the dream of work/life balance so many of us would like to adopt.
Getting Rid of Email
Eleven years ago, Luis stopped using corporate email and instead did all of his communication using other kinds of tools.
“You can hide your work behind your inbox,” he said. Instead, Luis uses more public and visible communication tools like social media and IBM Connections that require him to be open about the work he is doing. Ditching email even made his distributed work more successful.
“You overexpose how you work,” he said. “It’s uncomfortable at first, but later you regret that you haven’t done it sooner.”
“When you make your communication more visible,” he continued. “Your knowledge is no longer your knowledge; it’s your network’s knowledge. From that moment onwards you realize that when people ask you questions, it’s not just you answering those questions: it’s your entire network chipping in.”
For Luis, it does not get any better.
Despite working remotely, over a few years, Luis developed a personal network within IBM of over 4,000 people. Most of them he could find in five minutes. People will go to him to reach certain other people because he can deliver the message faster than their own email.
Can Communication be Completely Open?
Your customers are not behind a firewall, so you need to encourage your employees at some point to move beyond it.
“For that leap to take place, you need to be brave and courageous and shake off whatever you don’t want to show,” said Luis. “You have to be comfortable talking to strangers. If you decide to try it, the first phase is to collaborate internally until you become more comfortable, then you move on to the next frontier.”
Naturally, you’ll always need to measure the level of confidentiality of the communication. If a customer should not see the message, you should stay behind the firewall. If not, Luis says you don’t have an excuse not to share it with customers externally.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to help customers be better at what they do. So the way we do that is by being where the customers are,” Luis said.
Why Ditching Email Requires a Cultural Shift
When Luis first stopped using email, he worked for one of the most complex companies in the world: IBM. Colleagues challenged him saying he could only abandon email because he worked at IBM.
Luis accepted the challenge.
He started his own business and worked effectively without resorting to email for three years. Now he’s with Panagenda. He found his no-email method works at:
- Big corporations,
- Medium corporations,
- Small businesses,
- Freelancing on his own.
For each different class of company, he used different tools. In the end, Luis was able to prove to the nay-sayers that he could work almost anywhere without email.
However, it’s not about the tools: it’s about how you need to change your mindset. Work is no longer about what technology you use: it’s about “What kind of work do you do?” The kind of tools you use is based on the company, but at the end of the day, it is the work and not the tools that define you.
There’s a vast cultural component here. For Luis, technology is no longer an end: it’s a means. It’s an enabler that allows us to do a specific task.
How Data Analytics Proved That Email Is Overrated
Luis’s current focus is on data analytics. He helps organizations understand the data they gather when their people collaborate – through email or other tools.
After talking to hundreds of customers, it became Luis’ gut feeling, that extending communication beyond email was vital. What he loves about Panagenda is that he now has hard data to back up his instincts.
When he tells people that networks are the next operating model and online communities are the next management layer, he can corroborate that statement with data around how people actually collaborate both within the organization and outside it.
Some people scratched their heads at the idea of a guy who does not use email going to work for a company that analyzes email systems. However, it makes perfect sense.
The data he gathered at Panagenda has helped him prove beyond a doubt that email is fundamentally flawed. Luis can show how email is making us overstressed, burned out, and fails to get the job done. Now he can use that data to help others make their lives better.
How Does Technology Use Affect Different Generations in the Workplace?
Luis has never believed in arbitrary generational divides. What he does believe in are different working styles. At IBM, people over 60 were typically the most active on new tools because they saw a chance to share their knowledge. For Luis, it is not about generational divides. It is about compromise and how do you embrace different styles.
“No one stops to challenge the status quo,” Luis comments. “No one says, ‘Why are we still using email?’ Now, we have the luxury of so many tools to use, but no one has worked to negotiate how to work with all of the different working styles and the appropriate tool for that style. For some, it may be email. However, for many others, it won’t be.”
When you ask the right questions, people will stop and wonder if there could be a better way for them to work. It is fair to ask how moving from one tool (email) to many tools can be more productive?
The answer comes down to how our brains work. We’re wired to focus on small increments of change.
We struggle with our inbox is because there is no differentiation between different kinds of responses. As soon as you start to focus on how to respond in the best possible way for each task and to each person, your mind becomes free to focus on the work and not the tool.
3 Lessons We Learned from the Interview
- Anyone can have a fantastic work/life balance.
- It is possible to take the leap and use the right technology, instead of just the default technology.
- The data proves this approach works.
Most people are married to a particular technology. However, if work no longer becomes about a device or a tool or an office environment but becomes about the work itself, like Luis you may find yourself in a healthier place.
If you don’t use iTunes, check out all podcast episodes here.