“Social collaboration.”  You’ve probably heard of this and rolled your eyes because it’s a term that gets thrown around as much as “Cloud” nowadays.  It can mean a dozen different things depending on the time of day or the alignment of the planets and would only be relevant to those who put Twitter in their weekly reports.  Or so I thought…

I’d like to talk to you today about how my own rolling eyes have become focused on the ideas and benefits collaborative working can bring to the workplace and in particular the rather large workplace I frequent here at Citrix.

Old me and new me

“Do you do social, Dave?” asked Gavin, an old colleague of mine.  I didn’t really understand what he meant.  “Oh God, you’re not talking about Facebook at work are you because I get enough of what everyone’s doing at the weekend and thinks of Prometheus on that.”

My barriers had already come up and, to be honest, it was because I was used to the way I’d worked for years, Facebook was my perception of what social media was and I’d done OK so far by avoiding it for work, thank you very much.

I was stuck in my ways.  Need information?  Send an email to as many people as you can and you can bet someone, anyone, will know something close to the answer.  Throw enough darts at the board and one will surely hit the bullseye and woe betide anyone who gets hit by a stray in my quest!  Want to start a discussion between a group of colleagues?  Well lets start a huge email chain that everyone replies to and generally goes nowhere fast but there is a small probability that we’ll get to some agreement at some point.

You can tell already by the tone of my examples that I think there is a better way to work with colleagues, customers and partners and I really do believe that this social malarky (does it deserve a capital ‘S’ yet?) makes a lot of sense.

Taken in the right dosage, in the right context and used in the right way it can become your best friend and a tool you will never know how you did without.  Whatever I’m writing could apply to most of the social collaboration companies like Salesforce and Yammer but my focus today will be some of the rather wonderful things Podio social collaboration software has done for me in the last month.

Before moving on let’s go back to that conversation with my old Citrix colleague, Gavin.  Gav is actually the reason why I got a job at Citrix in the first place so I have a lot to thank him for.  Annoyingly I have to thank him again for helping me with Social (there, I’ve given it a capital letter) and the amount of beers and free meals I owe him now is getting out of hand, but I digress.  We met up with another former colleague of ours for dinner in London last month for a catch-up on each work, life and wine as we hadn’t been in the same room since we worked in IT Services back in 2001 – ahh the memories.  Gav runs the social media initiative for a 11,000 user organisation so had a lot to say on the subject and more real-world experience than most.  We began talking about the reasons to why it was so good and soon I was a convert to these new ways.  Ok well, maybe not 100%.  Let’s say I was more willing to give it a go than before.  I blame the Merlot.

After using Podio for a month with a real purpose I’ve come up with some thoughts on why it’s been effective for me why Podio has changed the way I work – and the way Citrix works too I suppose!

Podio and gift giving

Podio can capture the informal conversations usually left behind as you walk away from the can machine in the hallway or after you’ve put the milk away when pouring a cup of your favourite brew.  These chats are where the big ideas sprout from and where the whole concept of a Social Workplace springs to life.  It really is an effective way to get people together and talking and because 99% of us already use a social medium like Facebook, the interface is simple to pick up and the experience is pretty consistent too – even down to ‘liking’ this and that.  Having a discussion can lead off into the use of Podio’s apps for projects, online meetings or even just planning a team dinner.  All the tools are readily available no mater what tangent you take and if they aren’t you can easily write your own apps to fit your unique requirement.  I’ll write something separate on the apps I’ve created another time because that needs a bit of explaining but take my word for it, it’s been great so far and is very easy.

The next thing I’ve noticed about Podio is that people want to be involved.  If a question gets posted in a workspace, or announcements in the main company stream then there is a clamour to get their point in first.  This is very different to email in my eyes.  You can hide away behind a distribution list because “someone else will answer it” or flat-out ignore Outlook all together.  But for some reason, maybe the Facebook programming we’ve all had instilled in us, a social tool encourages participation.  Maybe it’s peer pressure.  How many of you joined Facebook because you already had friends using it and felt left out?  Personally I think it’s because with Podio or any Social tools, we’re suddenly accountable and visible.  If you’re the only person in a team of 20, 50 or 100 not contributing you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb.  I consider this gentle persuasion rather than a forceful shove but regardless of if you see it as a carrot or stick, it really works and everyone benefits.  Even those, like me, who needed a bit of convincing 😉

I read a book last year that in some ways offered another good reason to join the revolution, but this one might require a change in yourself.  “Linchpin” by Seth Godin (amazing book, highly recommend it), is about altering your mindset from being an also-ran to being a, you guessed it, linchpin.  Part of this is the idea of your work being about creating ‘art’ and giving ‘gifts.’  I don’t mean watercolours and wrapping paper, but taking pride in what you do and being generous with your knowledge and experiences, and most important of all, being open to helping others.  This to me is collaboration at its best and that’s what I’ve seen from us using Podio.

Bob Metcalfe, who co-invented ethernet, came up with ‘Metcalfe’s Law.’  It says “that the value of a network increases with the square of the number of nodes on the network.” What this means in plain English is the more people that use the system, the Internet, Podio, Twitter etc the more the tool is worth.  As a consequence more personal connections are made and the inherit value of the tool increases as does productivity, as does the frequency of ‘gifts.’  Everyone benefits.

In the UK Systems Engineering team, where I work, we use our Podio workspace to share ideas and information, ask questions of each other and it has been a great success.  We’ve recently had new starters in the team get up to speed faster and feel much more comfortable because they can openly discuss technical problems they’re seeing or simply join in discussions in a much more collaborative way.  I suppose we are gift givers (as much as ‘Mickey takers’ :)) in our own team but by doing this we achieve more together and at a much faster rate.

Suggestions rather than rules

Before I thank you for your time and let you get back to your email, I’ve come up with my own prime directives (yes I watched Robocop recently) on how to use Podio to its fullest.  Take em or leave em, but I think there still has to be some boundaries in place for any Social media to really work to its fullest:

  1. When you create a workspace make it private to start with.  Imagine walking into a room where nobody is talking.  You’d walk back out the door, wouldn’t you?  The same goes for Workspaces in Podio.  Get the conversation going BEFORE you make it public and let people in.  Put content in there well ahead of releasing it to the rest of your colleagues and it will instantly provoke discussions and, drumroll, GIFTS!
  2. When you create a new workspace provide as much detail as possible about what its purpose is.  I find adding a text widget  works well as you can then add a welcome message and a bit about what the workspace is for.  The more information the better.
  3. Get the management to buy into Podio.  If the boss says it’s good, then it’s worth doing.  If the leadership team is active on a new system this will filter down very quickly.  Even more so if the first two points are followed.
  4. Identify what you hate about email and see if they can be moved into Podio.  These don’t have to be directly related to email-like tasks.  Imagine how nice it would be to not be spammed about what people have for sale.  Put it into a ‘For Sale’ app on Podio, maybe part of a workspace about more informal happenings in your team.
  5. Appoint an admin.  The bigger your company, the more important it will be to monitor the workspaces and particularly the invited external members.  If you have a workspace with sensitive information you will obviously want to keep it away from Joe Bloggs who isn’t part of your company.  Keep them in a workspace dedicated for their needs and level and keep the information in there relevant to their input.
  6. Remember that anything you put on there can be public at any time so use your best judgements.  Heated debates are great but etiquette is not just for the dinner table 😉

Next time I’ll take you through how I use Podio apps to work better within my role as a Systems Engineer by creating my own apps for running a Proof of Concept.

Remember, there is a HUGE amount of information (and a free 10 user licence!) at podio.com so please visit there when you have time.

Thanks for reading,

David – Former skeptic, current COLLABORATOR