Early adventures in exploring social tools for smarter working

We’ve just ‘gone Google’. It’s still early days, but now that we’ve moved everyone over from our legacy Microsoft Exchange platforms to Google Apps for Work I’m seeing lots of really encouraging examples of people beginning to use Google Apps’ powerful collaboration capabilities to rethink the way that they do their work. That’s a blog post for another time, but one area I’m particularly interested in is how we can use Google+ to add a new dimension to the way we work, and I thought it might be useful to share a few examples of that here.

I’m very conscious of long standing advice from lots of experts who’ve spent time looking at enterprise social networking that a ‘fire and forget’ approach rarely works (I’ve put a few links to resources I’ve found helpful below). Just turning on Google+ and hoping it will magically become a valuable business tool isn’t likely to be very successful. So our current exploration has been around quite clearly defined purposes, and I’m very encouraged by what those have already achieved.

Supporting the Google transition

An obvious place to start was to use Google+ as part of our support for the Google transition. As well as the usual change support (online information, floorwalkers, optional training sessions etc), we set up a Google+ community and encouraged our users to join that to ask questions about functionality and share tips with each other. We’re using this to answer users’ questions, as well as publishing a regular ‘tip of the week’ highlighting useful features which people might not have found yet, and we now have over 160 people signed up (with a healthy upward trend in membership). But the thing I’m especially excited about is seeing our users helping each other out, often getting in with responses to questions more quickly than I or the other people in my team can. I think this has the potential to be a really useful addition to the standard ways we provide ICT support. It’s helping us foster a more open discussion with our users and giving the ‘gurus’ across our user base the opportunity to share their knowledge much more widely with other colleagues (making the traditional ‘water cooler’ advice more visible and available to all). It also means we can flag if a piece of advice might not be the most appropriate answer to a query.

We’re now planning to widen the purpose of this group to cover other questions about the services we provide (we asked our users and they thought that was a good next step).

Building our sense of team

Working as a shared service means that our team is spread across several different locations, which amplifies the usual difficulties of making connections between people who are working on a wide range of different projects and operational work. Creating a team space in Google+ isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ for this, but is showing some promise. Since we set up our team Google+ community last year we’ve used it for:

  • Regular updates which I share with the team to highlight work we’re doing and keep people informed. I’m finding this more effective than broadcast by email, as it provides the opportunity for follow up questions and is helping open up the work being done across the team.
  • It’s also starting to become a place where other team members share information about work they’re doing and ideas they’re looking at. I’m really keen to see this grow and become a ‘normal’ part of how we work together. I’ve found the connections I’ve made through Twitter etc incredibly useful in helping me with my work and getting new ideas (after being very sceptical about it before I signed up), and I’m keen to see if we can replicate some of that for our work within the team.
  • We’ve also experimented with using Google+ events to get people across the team involved in our service planning. Too often this is an exercise carried out by a small number of people and can result in service plans which others don’t find relevant to the work they’re doing. I definitely need to refine the approach a little, but the recent event we ran involved about 20 people from across the team (split roughly 50/50 between people in the room and those joining online) and brought out some really good ideas which we can use to shape our work. This felt like a good result from a first attempt, and the feedback from the people who took part was positive too.

Encouraging innovation across the Council

We’re also seeing some interesting examples of where colleagues outside ICT are exploring this opportunity. This includes:

  • The use of communities to get people across the Council to contribute to the thinking about our future strategic direction. I’ve seen some really interesting ideas and perspectives being shared through that, and as with our team community it’s good to see a wide range of contributors being given a platform for their thoughts.
  • Other colleagues are also looking into how this could be a useful tool to help with work across a range of partners, including the voluntary sector, where we are working together to shape policy and service change.

Early days, but encouraging stuff!

Useful resources

There’s lots of handy advice on how you can get started with social network tools in your organisation. Some of the resources I’ve found especially useful include:

Rachel’s @allthingsic blog has lots of useful information, including:

Gartner’s book ‘The Social Organisation’ is also very useful, Chapter One is available for download here.

And if Google+ is something you’re interested in looking at in more detail, here are some guides on the features available: