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Why it's so important to work out loud

06.06.2013
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I have to credit Thyda Nhek for introducing me to this phrase (who may have heard it from John Stepper), but ever since she mentioned it, it has stuck with me. I find that it concisely, yet accurately, explains what Jive and other social collaboration platforms really do. They allow companies of all sizes to "work out loud." Not only does this phrase introduce people to the concept of social collaboration in a simple way, it differentiates social collaboration tools from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which according to this recent article, many people mistake for social collaboration.

You might be asking yourself, “What’s so great about working out loud?" After gradually changing my own communication habits in the workplace over the last few years, these are the key reasons I think it's so important:

It breaks down silos

Have you ever felt like your department is kind of like a deserted island - left to fend for yourselves with limited resources and no effective way to connect with the outside world? Being in marketing, there have been plenty of times I've felt like that. I send emails - comparable to smoke signals - and I get no response. Why? Because people send too much darn email! Both inside departments and cross-functionally across teams, communicating effectively, especially via email, is a huge problem. Someone is either left out of the conversation that needs to be involved (which leads to unwanted surprises), or too many people are involved, causing a reply-all nightmare. Meanwhile, there's another group in another office in the same company having the exact same conversation, and you don't even realize it. The video below explains this scenario quite well:

Communication silos are bad for business - working out loud on a social collaboration platform available to everyone saves everyone time and reduces human error.

It strengthens company culture

Are employees within your organization aligned with your corporate culture? How can you know? While company-wide meetings and events can help build and reinforce company culture, they don't happen often enough, and it's hard to gauge their effectiveness. Furthermore, more and more companies, such as my own, are adopting more flexible work-from-home policies, which mean it's becoming increasingly difficult to bring the gang together in person. But it is possible to build culture online. Social collaboration platforms are not just about revenue-driving activities - they're also about employee engagement. They allow companies large and small to build communities where employees can feel like they're a part of something, and leaders can understand employee sentiment, no matter where they are.

It increases accountability

Working out loud means that a much wider audience knows what you're up to on a daily basis – whether you're drafting documents, participating in discussions, answering questions, or posting blogs. That can be unnerving for a lot of people, but in my experience, it's been a good thing knowing that everyone can see what I do. For one, it's encouraged me to get things right the first time around. Secondly, it allows feedback from a broader audience - good and bad, leading to a better end result. And finally, when I can see other people doing awesome work across the entire company, it motivates me to perform at the highest level I can. Employee communities increase accountability because they raise the bar for timeliness, quality, and productivity. Even better, they accomplish this on their own, without the need for micromanagement or leadership mandates.

It unlocks tribal knowledge

If you've ever worked in software, you know how challenging it can be to become an expert of a new platform in a very short amount of time. Whether you're in account management, customer service, sales, marketing, or product management – some of the most valuable things to know about the product you work with aren't available in a slide deck, knowledge article, or training video sanctioned by the company. Sometimes it's the "little things" about the platform that help you understand it on a deeper level and better serve your customers. The problem is, most of that information is either trapped in people's brains or lost within instant messages and email threads. We need better ways to make that valuable knowledge available to everyone in a collaborative environment. For some people – the terms "open" and "transparent" equate to security risks. But in this case, the benefits far outweigh the risks. When discussions about your product are happening in an open environment visible to all of your employees – it helps everyone understand it better, no matter how long you've been with the company. Furthermore, you allow your best subject matter experts to weigh in on the conversation, rather than limiting it to a finite group within an email thread that may or may not know exactly what they’re talking about.

It empowers employees

I hear and read a lot about innovation and ideation in the context of social collaboration - enterprise solutions are driving these important business activities through purpose-built tools, and companies that embrace them are seeing great results. While innovation is critical to secure a competitive position in any market, when you look at the big picture, these types of tools within social collaboration are really empowering employees to drive the growth and success of the company. When anyone and everyone, no matter what position they hold, can propose fresh ideas that gain accolades from their peers and leaders – and are acted upon, they feel they contribute and add value in a meaningful way, which can make a big difference in retaining top talent.

So what is the ROI of these outcomes? I couldn't tell you. But it sure makes life at work a lot less painful.

How has working out loud helped your company?

Published at DZone with permission of Jive Community, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)