In January of 2019, I published a blog article called Yammer is the Water Cooler. Recognizing the ever growing confusion of which tool to use for specific work tasks, especially in the Microsoft 365 platform, I encouraged readers to consider Yammer as the water cooler.

Microsoft purchased Yammer, the enterprise social network, in 2012. Microsoft had high hopes for Yammer, and had reasons to believe it would be widely used as part of their productivity suite. Yammer enabled users to move beyond emails, to work with more transparency and productivity, and to discover ways to save meaningful amounts of time and money, all while creating a valuable legacy of conversation and resources.

At my organization, we introduced Yammer in 2014 as a way for employees to stay connected to each other, and as a way for us to engage the members of our non-profit organization in an external network. Though a Microsoft insider once shared with me that “Yammer did not turn out to be the panacea we hoped it would be” we enjoyed robust usage and engagement numbers at our organization.

And then along came Slack, and all the rules changed. Slack allows companies to create persistent chat rooms for teams of employees that makes it easy to stay connected throughout the day as they work together on various types of projects, using a wide variety of other tools.

We continued to use Yammer.

And then along came Teams, and all the rules changed again. Launched in 2017 as a response to Slack, Microsoft Teams also offered persistent chat rooms, but also natively connected to the wide variety of Microsoft tools like SharePoint, Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Usage of Teams exploded immediately, and it quickly became the most popular business application in Microsoft history.

We continued to use Yammer.

If I had to guess, I would say that some people at our organization probably use Slack, though it is not something that is supported by our IT department. More of my colleagues are using Teams, and they appreciate how it supports their high velocity, date driven, project oriented work.

People are sometimes confused about when they should use Teams and when they should use Yammer. Both offer chat. Both offer connections to Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and both help us easily connect to colleagues and work being done throughout our organzation. In my blog article, I referred to the Microsoft “Inner and Outer Loop” framing of these tools. Teams is for the inner loop, your colleagues working on a specific project. Yammer, on the other hand, is for the outer loop, an easy way to share your work with the rest of the organization. Rather than the loop reference, I find my colleagues embrace the frame of the Conference Room vs. the Water Cooler.

Teams is the conference room, it is the private space you enter with the tools you need to do the work you need to do. Once you leave the conference room, you stop by the water cooler, and in many ways, that’s where the real work gets done. That’s where you connect with people who may not be on your time. That’s where the rumors are spread, weekend plans are shared, and probing questions are asked. Teams in the conference room. Yammer is the water cooler.

And then, along came COVID-19, and now we don’t have access to the conference room or the water cooler. We are all stuck at home, doing our best to stay connected to our colleagues over Zoom, email, Yammer and Teams.

We continue to use Yammer.

Now that we are unable to pass each other in the hallways, to go out to lunch with each other, or to catch up with each other over the coffee machine or water cooler, Yammer’s importance and centrality has only grown and strengthened. In many ways, Yammer is now more important than it was before the pandemic, it is more important than Slack and it is more important than Teams.

When we are working in Teams, our work is only visible by the few, select others who happen to have permission to access that online space. While that may be appropriate in many project based instances, and while Teams may help us to get important work done, it does not do much to keep us connected to the rest of the organization.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our organization has seen the use of Yammer increase exponentially, and it has provided a lifeline for a staff during some incredibly difficult times of change and adjustment. For instance:

Our users created the Pandemic Potluck community. We make lunch for our kids, we explore fancy dinners for ourselves, we bake bread, cakes and cookies. We use the Pandemic Potluck community to share ideas, recipes and pictures. Most of all, we use Pandemic Potluck as a place to connect.

Our users created the Peloton Riders community. Sales of the Peloton exercise bike skyrocketed during the pandemic, and soon my colleagues realized that many people had a Peloton at home. Now users plan rides together, have created a hashtag we can all use, and are inspiring each other to exercise even though we can’t leave the house. We use the Peloton community as a place for inspiration and ideas. Most of all, we use the Peloton community as a place to connect.

Our users created the Our Favorite Things community. With everyone stuck at home, we are thirsting for connection of what other people are watching, reading or buying. We needed to find useful, rewarding ways to pass the time at home because we could only spend so many hours at our desk working on our computers. We use the Our Favorite Things community as a place to share what we are excited about. Most of all, we use the Our Favorite Things community as a place to connect.

And while the Peloton rides we take and food we cook is not about work, incredibly valuable connections are being made that will make the work easier to do. Now we know colleagues who may not have known before. We have created a valuable level of trust while talking about seemingly innocuous subjects.

This tangible and sincere level of trust we have created now gives us the confidence to explore other communities in Yammer. Communities where colleagues are talking about work and getting projects done. Communities that will expose us to new information and new opportunities. We may not be in the virtual conference room yet, but what we have learned at the virtual water cooler is now getting us closer.

We have to be more purposeful now than ever in creating connections, breaking down walls and fostering relationships. There are lots of wonderful collaboration tools out there, but taking advantage of the Yammer super power of communities that are open, transparent and accessible will bring the water cooler to you. You may be working in your office, at your kitchen table or in the basement, but the water cooler will be there too. Using Yammer, you will find sustained connections to the valuable and important conversations throughout your organization.

The conference room is fine, but the real work gets done at the water cooler.

1 Comment

  1. Absolutely brilliant, Larry. We need the humanity of the water cooler, the sudden brainstorming in the hallways, the way talk invariably turns to work while out at lunch with colleagues. It is, as you say, where the real work happens, in all the multiple layers that “work” is.

    Liked by 1 person

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