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Working Out Loud

Posted by EddiePrentice on May 26, 2015

One of the consequences of the digital workplace is that it is so easy to create and share content that sometimes we overdo it. Did you really need to send that attachment to everyone or “reply to all”. Are those files you uploaded ever going to get read? Has the blog you posted added anything new to the debate? As an evangelist for social business and the value of collaboration software I do constantly feel the need to be disciplined about what I share. Getting something off my mind might add to the clutter of someone else’s!

It is in that context that I reviewed the whole process of Working Out Loud. I first thought seriously about Working Out Loud about a year ago after a workshop with ex IBMer Luis Suarez. I looked in to it a bit more deeply and came across a blog post by Bryce Williams from back in 2010 which I think has stood the test of time. He described it thus:

Working Out Loud   =   Observable Work   +   Narrating Your Work

I like the simplicity of this breakdown. Williams describes Observable Work as “creating / modifying / storing your work in places that others can see it, follow it and contribute to it in process. The key being that items are available during the course of being worked on, and not waiting until a final deliverable to publish to a broader audience.” His view on Narrating Your Work implies the act of journaling (blogging, micro-blogging, etc.) what you are doing in an open way for those interested to find and follow.

I never really had a problem with Observable Work. However, I had always been slightly wary of sharing EVERYTHING i.e. the “narrating your work” bit. That seemed a bit like overkill. In my head I was seeing people tweeting that they were in a coffee shop in an airport the other side of the world. What value did that add to my day?

But I now realise I was missing the point. Sharing everything actually saves me (and others) time and possible frustration. If, in effect, I open my calendar to everyone it has benefits:

  • It means I only have to tell people once. They know what I’m up to. I don’t need to respond and inform multiple times.
  • It lets others know when I am most likely to be available. If I am in a workshop all day then it sets expectations about when emails or calls will be returned. This should lower frustration or nudge people to find another source for what they want.
  • Others can see where I am or who I’m with and that may stimulate thoughts, ideas or questions which move things forward more efficiently or lead to new opportunities.

Transparency Builds Trust

Being open and working out loud does not have to mean information overload. In fact, it could lead to less, but more efficient, dialogue. Looking at it from another perspective, is it not the case that hiding work processes in the shadows is counter-productive?

Working Out Loud is an aspect of being a social business. How far you take this is down to corporate cultures and individual personalities. Some people will really struggle to put themselves in the spotlight, even if they see the benefits. The ability to be truly open will be a challenge for many organisations.

However, an individual can “work out loud” even in a company which struggles with the concept. And this is my point. Social collaboration software enables the individual to contribute above and beyond their job description. That can be rewarding for employees and employers. Working Out Loud is not a panacea but it is a stepping stone to becoming an open business with a sharing culture. That is a good thing. Sharing your calendar and to-do list not only informs your network but it also stops people asking.

Making this work takes time and commitment but it doesn’t imply anarchy. We still need direction. We still need managers. We just want to open the airwaves for more enlightened communication. In a socialised work environment the things we say and do are much more out in the open than used to be the case. This is not just the consequence of using social tools, it is the purpose.   








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