5 Keys to Working Out Loud
Colin Rigley

Back in June, in the waning days of FY15 and with a brand new fiscal year about to begin, Satya Nadella sent out a few words of wisdom to all of Microsoft. In his statement, Satya outlined a vision for the future of the company; which, in many ways, is a vision for the future of the modern workplace.

“We will be open to learning our own biases and changing our behaviors so we can tap into the collective power of everyone at Microsoft. We don’t just value differences, we seek them out [and] we invite them in. And as a result, our ideas are better, our products are better, and our customers are better served.”

At Carpool, we call this way of working openly working out loud and it’s not just a mishmash of touchy-feely buzzwords. There’s real, tangible value in the act of breaking down the invisible walls that isolate one person from another, one team from another, and company leadership from employees. On the flip side, there can be real harm for companies that continue to wall people off by constraining them into restrictive communication channels. For instance, when Fierce, Inc., asked more than 1,400 employees what leads to failures at work, 86 percent of them cited a lack of collaboration.

Sure, there are tools that make it easier to collaborate, but tools alone don’t solve the problem because the tool is only as powerful as the person who wields it. Throwing tools at the communication problem won’t solve it. The trick is evolving mindset and culture. That being said, here are five keys to stir an evolutionary way of approaching workplace comms.

1: Transparency

Unless a healthy share of your work is readily available to anyone who cares to look, you’re not truly working out loud.

For instance, it won’t do much good to exclusively use Facebook at Work or Yammer if you’re doing nothing more than sending private messages. The power of these tools lies in your ability to hold an open dialogue, just as working in a shared OneNote is more inclusive than passing attached documents over email.

2: Willingness to Share Knowledge

One of the biggest blockers to your ability to work out loud is you. This is because we have become so accustomed to living in our inboxes and other isolated channels of communications that the thought of freely sharing our work can be intimidating. It’s the grown-up equivalent of standing in front of the class and delivering a book report.

But it’s important to know that this reluctance fades with time. Once you start to open yourself up to the group, you will likely find that people are really interested in what you do. They will want to help more than criticize. So by sharing what you do and what you know, you will begin to learn more from your peers and they will learn more from you.

3: Fluidity

There is a natural flow of information—if it’s allowed to move unimpeded. Think of the collective pool of work in a company like a small mountain stream. When it’s allowed to flow freely, that little stream will meander its way down the mountain and merge with other streams until it eventually becomes part of a raging mountain river. But to increase the fluidity of information, you must increase the flow. This means adding as much water to the stream (metaphorically) as you can. In other words, the more information you make available, the more it will embed into all aspects of your business.

Information is most powerful when it’s transparent and accessible. It’s impossible to predict what your people need to know and when they need to know it. So if you hoard your notes and archived work for just yourself, you limit the company’s ability to grow by limiting everyone’s ability to tap into your knowledge and thought processes. By sharing what makes you valuable and encouraging others to do the same, your business will be better situated to tackle big problems and uncover innovative solutions.

4: Culture and Community

One of the most important aspects of working out loud is ensuring that everyone is comfortable participating in an open workplace. This, of course, is not something that can be resolved with a company memo, but it requires a collective effort to build a collaborative and friendly atmosphere. Remember this goal: Create a culture where people feel safe when they share.

It’s incumbent on everyone to trust in the group and feel confident that their contributions will be acknowledged and incorporated in some way. Even something as simple as clicking the “like” button on your Enterprise Social Network can go a long way.

5: Leadership and Reinforcement

Though working out loud is easier with a flat organizational structure—in which everyone can join the conversation no matter where they rank on the hierarchy—leadership support is critical to establish the tone of that conversation. However, this is not to say that company leaders need to establish a list of rules—far from it, actually.

Whether the office is strictly professional or keeps things casual, team members will naturally develop ideas of how to behave in a social environment based on what the boss is doing. The more company leaders play an active role in social conversations and reinforce the work they see, the more likely employees will be to continue working in such a way. After all, if the boss isn’t participating, why should anyone else?

Final Thoughts

The open workplace is critical to future success. Businesses in the future cannot afford to stand still, and moving forward will require transparent, innovative, and dynamic ways of working. Satya, perhaps, said it best in the closing words of his FY15 message:

“I believe that culture is not static. It evolves every day based on the behaviors of everyone in the organization. … I really do believe that we can achieve magical things when we come together as one team and focus.”