$1.2 Billion for a social network platform – yowza! Or rather, Yammer! Online community and collaboration tools have come a very long way since IRCs, usenet and Delphi ruled the Internet. As important as Yammer’s recent acquisition by Microsoft might be to the Wall Street crowd, the impact of this platform and similar tools on the business culture of organizations will be even greater. These technologies provide a single platform for intra-office collaboration: multiple communication modes, file sharing, collaborative editing and in-depth staff directories and profiles available at single online location. Once integrated into Microsoft’s ubiquitous enterprise Office suite, your cubical life will be changed forever. Even senior executives won’t be able to ignore this shift.
Let’s take a closer look at the intra-office behavior changes already occurring. The biggest shift is immediate (communications) gratification in the workplace. Most of us are accustomed to working with some time delays, especially in global organizations. Send an email, wait the polite amount of time based on the nature of the need or interaction, and if no response is forthcoming, call or resend the message. If you have the chutzpah – or the genuine need — mark it “Urgent.” Time is ticking and bosses or clients are waiting. Phone tag? IM? What to try next?
With internal social platforms such as Yammer, the waiting employee can give a virtual “tap on the shoulder” not only to the desired individual, but that individual’s co-located co-workers. Consider this oh-so-common example:
“Hey Pete! Is Maria in her office? I sent her a message and *need* to talk to her. Do you see her in there?”“Does anyone have a functionality matrix I can use? Client meeting in 4 hours and this all-nighter is killing me.Thanks Ravi. I owe ya!”
All these capabilities have been available for some time, but not in a single seamlessly integrated application which can effectively replace both email and traditional document repositories. This is very powerful, and is already changing the communication patterns in many organizations. However, firms to understand the impact this will have on behavior and the unintended consequences of those behavior changes. Many managers do not realize that all the discussions, instant messages and file sharing taking place on tools like Yammer are, in fact, discoverable – in both the technical and legal sense.
On one hand, this is great news. We can transfer the knowledge in people’s heads and on their desktops to more accessible locations where it can be leveraged by anyone within the organization who needs it. The ROI for internal collaboration tools can be extremely high. For example, one of our clients used a Yammer installation just for their (global) in-house legal team. Through effective knowledge sharing, they were able to reduce their spending on outside counsel significantly by posting the questions and answers outside counsel had already answered. Avoiding redundant answers saved serious cash.
But on the other hand, with great power comes the burden of responsibility. That sidebar conversation — gossipy, snarky and maybe a bit disparaging about a colleague? It’s saved on a server somewhere. Yes. Really. Forever. You can stop blushing now.
Some of us have been trained on the etiquette of email and the rules of online engagement. The digital adage — never put anything in an email that you wouldn’t say on a podium — applies to intranet tools like Yammer too. The immediacy of instant collaboration, however, can sometimes override our professional filters.
Smart organizations will educate their staff and help them understand when to use email and when to use IM. For example, email is best for detailed exchanges, and documents that require a high degree of accountability. IM is best suited for rapid exchanges and in-the-moment information requests. Develop and teach good practices so they are widely known and accepted throughout the organization. Consider developing an internal social network policy or including one in the firm’s larger social media policies and guidelines documentation.
There’s a social business revolution going on both outside and inside the organization’s virtual borders. It’s an exciting time; the changes are accelerating and will be lasting. The challenge will be to help people make the most of the new social tools to benefit their company and themselves.