Luis Suarez, who works for IBM, ditched email. He still has an email account, but since 2008 he’s tried to wean himself off email.

Suarez documents the decreasing amounts of email he receives with blog posts tagged “A World Without Email“. When he started, Suarez received more than 30 emails per day; by 2011 he received 16 emails per week. (I always imagine the phrase being read with the deep voice of movie trailer narrators, “In a world without email, one man stands alone…”)

Headlines highlight Suarez’s lack of email as an oddity. In 2012, Wired ran a story titled “IBM Gives Birth to Amazing E-mail-less Man“. The idea that a tech professional could do actual work without email boggles! Bah. Nearly impossible!

Headlines about Suarez should read “Man Chooses to Work in Public”. Suarez replaced email with a mix of internal and external social networking tools. He posts to his WordPress-powered blog at several times a month. He uses Twitter and Tumblr to share what he’s doing. He even uses Google+ now and then.

Suarez’s choice to share his work came as a result of thinking and practice. He worked for years in the field of Knowledge Management. And he’s highly proficient at learning new tools and ways of working: he started blogging back in 2005.

Social proficiency for professionals

But not everyone is as experienced at using social tools for professional purposes. Many of the one billion people using Facebook use it primarily for personal, not professional connections and conversations.

In my own work, I’ve tried to model the behavior of “working in public”, at least to a limited extent. I teach a class at Grand Valley State University on Nonprofit and Government Technology. The syllabus for the class has always been available publicly online, although I haven’t yet taken the step of publishing it on GitHub. The class is held in a conventional classroom yet all of the content for the course is available online.

Since it is a technology focused course, I use a variety of tools. So far this year, I’ve created presentations with Google Slides, Keynote (on the iPhone and iPad), LucidChart, MindMeister, SlideRocket, Storify, and WordPress. I even created a Pinterest board for a discussion of basic small office technologies. Links for the content “go live” on the syllabus page before class.

Students use the tools, as well. They’ve taken collaborative notes with Google Docs, compared products in shared spreadsheets, created presentations with Google Slides, and recorded video interviews with working professionals about technology usage. They’ve also crafted stories drawn from a variety of social media sources using Storify.

Learning to share and collaborate proficiently online takes time

Most important, the students’ work is publicly visible to their peers. This year, I created a Google+ Community for the class. All assignments and work is shared here. “Turning in” a writing assignment means posting to the Google+ class community. Presentation slides are considered on time when the link is shared for the entire class to see.

Your work – made visible

Knowledge workers need to be more like athletes and performers: to do our work in public, while visible to others. It takes years of practice to become proficient at a sport or live performance. You can’t gain proficiency by reading about it; you have to do it.

Think about your own workflow. What might be gained by sharing what you’re up to today?

If you’re good at what you do, why wouldn’t you want people to know?

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