The Virtual Coffee Machine – Virtually Caffeine Free

As discussed before, when moving towards any sort of flexible working / virtual / Unfettered or Hybrid organisational model, the challenges which need addressing centre on Premises (both work and home) and People.

As regards People, the issues are, unsurprisingly, all about different aspects of connection:

  • how to ensure continuing communication (both formal and informal)
  • how to enable collaboration
  • how to encourage commitment and engagement.

How do you enable the serendipity of coffee machine conversations when your employees have all gone home?

Unified Communications technology like Microsoft’s Lync – which combines instant messaging, audio and video conferencing and “presence” information – has a large part to play, as does collaboration software like SharePoint.  In addition though, many companies are turning to social media approaches to facilitate connection across dispersed and complex matrix organisations.  There are a number of applications available which take a FaceBook or Twitter-like approach and enable it for use behind the corporate firewall.

Applications like ThoughtFarmer, Confluence and Spigit emphasise the knowledge management and innovation aspects of a social media approach whilst the likes of Yammer, Jive and SocialText perhaps place more emphasis on collaboration and communication.  That said, there is plenty of overlap as you might expect with such an amorphous subject as Connection.

The more Twitter-like, micro-blogging applications are instructive for a corporate world which often struggles to see the value in something as apparently vacuous and inane as Twitter in domestic life.  Why on earth would you encourage such a time-wasting facility inside the company?  SocialText’s Michael Idinopulos provides a very persuasive answer in this blog-post.  He suggests a test for anyone doubting the value of their micro-blogging platform: search for the term “anyone”. 

The results immediately demonstrate the value of such an unstructured tool in a world which increasingly presents unstructured problems.  Borrowing from Idinopulos’s post, a typical set of results might be:

“Does anyone speak Turkish and would be willing to review a translation for us?”
“Has anyone here in the UK got a copy of last Saturday’s Telegraph magazine?”
“Does anyone know when (Publication) official launch date is?
“Does anyone here work on (Journal Title). Stock has mysteriously arrived in the journals distribution centre”
“It’s time to learn more about web usability. Can anyone recommend any training courses, books, or websites/blogs?”

…i.e. the sort of questions which lie across organisation structure and established communication lines.  If you get answers more quickly, you – and your organisation – become more effective.

A browse across all of these vendors’ sites quickly demonstrates the value of a social media approach to any knowledge-intensive business and especially to those with dispersed teams.

I am indebted to Pete Doyle (@socialretail) of SocialNetIt for a presentation he gave to the Berkshire branch of the IoD on Social Media in business. 


About Andrew Munro

An independent business consultant, interim manager and writer, Andrew operates through his company, Burning Pine Ltd (
This entry was posted in Organisational Humanity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Virtual Coffee Machine – Virtually Caffeine Free

  1. Pingback: Perspectives on Flexible Working – Microsoft | Andrew Munro's Blog

  2. Pingback: Adventures of an Open Plan Prairie Dog | Andrew Munro's Blog

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