The rise of collaboration – and why Yammer is key

Richard Acreman
By Richard Acreman on 23 December 2019
The rise of collaboration – and why Yammer is key

Whether you call them collaboration tools, enterprise social media, enterprise networking or any number of other names, the range and prevalence of this software has undeniably been on the rise. Slack used to rule the roost, but things are changing – and fast.

First, the collaboration platform received its fair share of kick-back from users, often coined a ‘Slacklash’. If this is news to you, then a Google search of ‘Slacklash’ will highlight the issue dates back to 2016 (and possibly beyond). Even then, just a few years after its founding, there was talk of it negging people out, with Vice’s Motherboard going so far as to take a break from Slack entirely, saying it was baseline distracting.

Alongside this criticism of Slack, it would be fair to say there’s a new player in town, with the launch of Microsoft’s Teams in 2017 as a direct competitor. And since its introduction the new collaboration tool has been nothing less than a resounding success. It’s Microsoft’s fastest-growing application in history and has effectively claimed top spot as the app with most daily users of any comparable tool.

Yet the market is becoming increasingly crowded. Slack has ceded dominance due the meteoric rise of Teams. Facebook have entered the fray with Workplace, Jive hasn’t disappeared and there have even been examples of smaller scale outfits creating alternatives, such as Todoist launching its own collaboration tool which significantly dials down on the number of notifications users receive.

However, regardless of which app you choose, they all share one thing in common: the ability to connect people, enabling them to communicate and collaborate on projects and work together regardless of their location. In the modern day, this ability to connect remotely is critical in meeting employees’ desire for flexible working, and can also provide the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a team, something which has been highlighted as an important contributor to our mental wellbeing. Since their introduction to the workplace these apps have been credited with improving productivity, security, boosting diversity and inclusion and a whole host of other benefits for businesses adopting them.

Given they all share some of these same attributes, what becomes key is their differences, and how they can be used. Despite some early confusion around use cases for Teams when Microsoft already offered Yammer, it’s become clear that much like Slack, the more recent addition to the Office +365 suite is geared towards smaller groups working together on specific projects or activities. But given that Slack and Teams boast around 23 million users between them, you’d be forgiven for assuming they were the best, or only real option. However, you would be wrong.

Unlike the two aforementioned tools, Yammer brings something different – and invaluable – to the table: scale. With no upper limit on the number of people who can take part in a conversation, Yammer provides the ability to communicate with thousands of employees, spanning diverse departments and locations. It can enable senior management to share and spread clear messaging on a company’s direction and culture. Used intelligently, it can also act as a forum or mechanism for employees to feed back with their own ideas on how a positive workplace can be supported and systems improved, creating a network that is truly co-owned, where everyone has a voice and you can hear from those who perhaps haven’t been heard from enough so far – and could otherwise be overlooked.

As Steve Nguyen, product evangelist at Microsoft explained: “Yammer is an important platform to align your employees on key company goals and key company values. It allows us to bring out the best in your culture, in your employees, your people.” It really can work in practice too.

One example can be found at Rolls Royce, where a Yammer group focused on mental health and wellbeing has been transformational for the business. Ray Harrison, intranet specialist at the car manufacturer, said: “It’s given people suffering from these issues an opportunity to raise awareness within their teams and organisation. That means the organisation talks more about these issues.”

Talk was soon turned into action, with the brand now running bespoke performance culture training. As part of this, participants are asked to use a mood elevator, designed to allow people to pinpoint where they sit at any given time on a scale of feelings. The descriptor for the lower end was ‘depressed’.

The enterprise social network gave people the chance to challenge this use of the word, and to ask if that was empowering sufferers, or if, in fact, it was supporting the stigma of mental health issues, and not acknowledging what it was really like to live with depression. In response to employees questioning the term, the label was changed to ‘deflated’ or, ‘overwhelmed’ to help with the de-stigmatisation of mental health in the workplace. Ray spoke of his pride about how the network facilitates and drives inclusion, saying simply how “Yammer offered a voice to those who wouldn’t have necessarily had one before.”

Case uses like this demonstrate the key difference when compared to Teams or Slack. While you can have conversations over the latter two platforms, their primary purpose is to assist and facilitate work. Yammer, on the other hand, leans more heavily toward social networking in its approach. Admittedly, it may not be as suitable a solution for smaller enterprises, but for those with large (especially deskless or mobile) workforces, Yammer is still the app of choice.

Teams has undeniably been making most of the noise of late, but when Microsoft announced 2020 to be the ‘Year of Yammer’ and introduced a whole host of updates and improvements as part of a recent overhaul of the platform, you’d have to be either brave or foolish to say they’re wrong.

Richard Acreman is a partner at WM Reply and publisher of The Complete Guide To Yammer.

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