Zero email, how to get things done! part 3

Posted on: November 25, 2013 by Jan Krans

The last mile, becoming Zero email

The inbox is under control, which was described in part one of this series. In the second post Unified Communications was added to the mix to reach the target set, sending less internal emails as a result of smarter ways of working, which was a good one, but we are not completely there yet. A component for asynchronous communication and unstructured collaboration was missing.


Atos - Getting-Things-Done-Jan-Krans


In this third and last post I focus on how Atos filled this gap with the introduction of an Enterprise Social Network (ESN), in our case blueKiwi, the product of a startup company Atos acquired in 2012. blueKiwi is a full blown ESN, which means it has lots and lots of functionality. In this post, I only explain a bit of the relevant functionalities to become Zero email.

Standalone application

In the beginning when blueKiwi was introduced in the organization it was a standalone application with an incredible set of options to communicate and collaborate with colleagues, but it was hard because there was no integration with other essential business tools we used to get work done like Office, Outlook, Lync, SharePoint and alike.

Inbox Zero system

So this lead to a situation where the basic Microsoft applications were already integrated but our new ESN wasn’t. This resulted in a sort of balancing act to get work done, although the benefits of the ESN were very clear from the beginning, it took some extra effort to make it happen. So I created the Inbox Zero system also in the ESN environment by making use of a functionality called ‘Smart lists’. These lists behave more or less like an Outlook folder with or without email rules and as expected this procedure was also working in an ESN setting. Great!

No escape

The real magic happened when I was invited for piloting the integration with Outlook and Office, as of then there was no escaping anymore, everything was in place to reduce internal email to zero. It was a rigorous and tough decision, the decision to send no internal email anymore as from then. A few exceptions were allowed like, setting up and accepting meetings, legal and HR related communication and workflows which rely on email, but for the rest Zero email it is. Ok, with one more exception, to let colleagues know I responded to their request in the blueKiwi (email notifications of the ESN is turned off).

The first step was to activate the internal Out-of-Office reply with a friendly message to the sender explaining I do not use email anymore, but smarter tools for communication and collaboration. I realized this was a bit bold but necessary, to make it clear I had made the shift to an email free environment. I still stick to the Inbox Zero ritual for email for the external communication with clients and partners, but internally no email has been sent anymore.

blueKiwi collaborative note

So I extended the GTD ritual, can I answer the email within less than two minutes, check if senders are online and if they are start a chat to get it done, if not transform the email message within outlook to a blueKiwi collaborative note (sort of mini wiki, where multiple people can edit the note real-time) which could be posted in a community if applicable or as a private message to all the persons involved in the email communication. If it takes more than two minutes, put it in the ‘To do’ folder in Outlook and if takes more than 15 minutes convert the email to an agenda item. So from now all communication and collaborations activities are moved to Lync and/or blueKiwi.

Smarter way of working

When converting an email to the ESN some extra measurements have to be arranged since not yet everyone has made the transition to the new and smarter way of working. To solve this, an email reply template was created were the link to the note on blueKiwi could be posted with a simple click. Now the email recipients can access my reply, but also see how to arrange the email information in separate sections, so it’s more logical and easier to grasp if you are added to the discussion in a later stadium. No more email puzzles, document Ping-Pong and email trees.



The overall result, Zero email, in the beginning I had to do some extra effort in converting email conversations to the ESN, but now the colleagues I interact with on a regular basis are also adopting this new way of working.

Why? They are also benefiting from the same time savers and see a rise in quality of the output and everything gets done in a faster pace. It has become a sort of grassroots movement within the company, ZEN travelers they are being called, whereby ZEN stands for Zero Email Network and when they are mastering Zero email become real Zero Heroes.

Journey to Zero

For me, the hardest part of the journey to Zero was to just take the decision to say no to internal email, but when you stick to the decision long enough, it will pay off in more ways than you could ever imagine.

One confession, Outlook is still my main nerve center for communication and collaboration although the ESN is the central place for starting a collaboration and asynchronous communication processes. The reason for an Outlook nerve center is easy, clients and partners communicate by email and, on the other hand, all blueKiwi notifications are synced within Outlook. This enables me to use a set of email rules to organize the ESN feeds to get my stuff done within the Inbox Zero routine.

Probably you will choose your own personal path to Zero. So to conclude, how do you cope with your internal email overload and which smarter ways of working are you using?


Source image: Get things done

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About Jan Krans
Director Enterprise Collaboration, Social Collaboration & Knowledge Sharing and member of the Scientific Community
Jan Krans is Group Director Enterprise Collaboration, Social Collaboration & Knowledge Sharing, a member of the Scientific Community and a Lecturer at The Hague University. Jan is specialized in new ways of working in combination with social business and he likes to surf. Not only the web, but also waves and wind, to get a clear mind and to be connected to nature’s forces. Do you want to be in contact? Just send a tweet to @Vivjan or drop a line at

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