Monday, May 16, 2011

Effective ways to collaborate

(This is a summary of a conversation held in the Linkedin Hub Generation group)

In recent months, as a result of being away from the office visiting Kenya and the UK, I have come to understand even more the importance (and occasional draw backs) of social media-based collaboration tools.


At Zipipop we have been using social-media tools to communicate and collaborate for over four years. The main day-to-day tool we have been using is the internal micro-blogging service Yammer (see end note about Podio), which basically functions as a shared, continuous notification and discussion space – like a closed version of the Facebook News Feed. This is really a core part of our operations, since we are often out of the office running workshops or collaborating with remote workers. So my movements between different countries was fairly seamless – provided, that is, I had reliable access to 3G mobile internet. 

When the connection is unreliable (as it was in the UK Lake District) email comes back to prominence as a more workable solution, but otherwise it was much more productive to work in one central micro-blogging space. In addition, Yammer shows who is online, which helps generate a sense of presence between you and the office. However, in the long run it is not a replacement of face-to-face time, since a regular physical presence is still necessary to remain fully in touch and influential.  

I have noticed, however, that the sooner organizations adopt online spaces as their core means of communication the more effective they can operate when employees have to be geographically separated – since people get used to making decisions online rather than relying totally on physically meetings and "water cooler" discussions. There is a general trend towards fragmented working spaces, so organizations should consider the negative effect of people feeling "left out" if they don't have access to the ongoing organizational conversations. It all comes back to transparency. And the more we can adopt the best-practices of online culture, the more time and travel costs (financial & environmental) we can save, and the more opportunities there will be to balance the demands of work and private life. Here are some handy tips on keeping remote workers motivated and in the loop.

Antti Virolainen pointed out that with these new tools his company Avoin yritys can work effectively while being located in two different Finnish cities. And that sometimes the effort of writing can help people to focus on the essentials.  They recommend IRC chat and the immediacy of instant (no accounts required) collaborative writing services; such as or