Little did they know.

When Yammer, the Microsoft enterprise social network platform, announced that 2020 would forever be known as the #YearofYammer, little did they know.

Little did they know that 2020 would be the year that it came to be. A worldwide pandemic resulting in millions of people sick and dying around the world. Almost every single company in every single industry in every single city, state and country needing to re-imagine some aspect of the way that it does business.

And yet, thankfully, they soldiered forward. During a year when we needed effective connection and collaboration more than ever, Yammer rolled out scheduled upgrades and improvements exactly as planned, just as they promised to do in 2019.

The list of deployed improvements and enhancements was exhaustive, and even though they were most likely planned and developed long before we knew what the year 2020 would bring, they addressed so many of the unique needs we all faced in our work during this traumatic and challenging year.

Though we were stuck at home, the work needed to continue. We needed to know that we still had a place in the work that was being done. We needed to know that we mattered. We needed to know that we could still take advantage of opportunities for connection and collaboration, even though there was no more water cooler. Even though there was no more coffee station. Even though there was no more conference room.

Yammer deployed interactive emails, so that we could fully engage in Yammer posts without ever leaving Outlook. There was a completely refreshed, modernized user interface that was easier to navigate. There were brand new apps for the mobile experience, which provided more opportunity to engage with our work, even when on the go. Native mode. Pinned posts. Live events. Video posts. The list goes on and on.

But maybe the most significant improvement was also one of the most basic. In fact, on the “Best of Yammer 2020” Yammer blog article, it is the 20th of 20 improvements that were detailed. In a year when we were cocooned at home, in a year when there was so much value in every connection, every conversation, every opportunity to contribute, it was the simple change of changing Yammer Groups to Yammer Communities that became the most important, and most valuable.

It really was a very small change, especially in the context of many of the other changes made that required likely required a massive investment of strategy, planning and coding. Yammer Communities, in many ways, do the exact same things that Yammer Groups did before. They host conversations. They store files. They provide a place for people to collaborate.

Looking at Merriam-Webster definitions alone, the value of the change from Groups to Communities becomes a bit clearer. A group is “two or more figures forming a complete unit in a composition,” whereas a community is “a unified body of individuals, a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.”

A group is a “complete unit” whereas a community is “people with a common characteristic.” A group does not necessarily welcome people in (assuming that it is, indeed, “complete”), whereas a community is open to people who share a “common characteristic,” whatever that characteristic may be. A group is finished. A community is never finished.

In many workplaces, the last thing anyone needs is more groups. Groups can be tribal and exclusionary. Groups create silos of information and conversation. It is difficult for work in a group to be informed by the experience and expertise of others throughout your organization, because people in a group are usually not concerned with transparency and collaboration. When work is done in a group, that work is only shared with the rest of the “larger society” when the work is complete with no invitation for input or feedback.

However, a community is different. A community is more porous and inviting. A community welcomes others. A community brings information in, and shares information out. If a community exists at your workplace, it is likely made up of those who do the work of that community, and those who are interested in the work of that community. It means that other voices are encouraged, and that the work of that community is recognized and considered throughout the organization.

Now, when we do work in our Yammer networks, we can say:

“I shared that information in our community. You can find it there.”

“You should join that community. Lots of good information being shared.”

“Can I ask that question in your community?
Lots of valuable voices are doing work in that space.”

You are not being asked to switch departments, you are not being asked to join a clique. You are being asked to feel that you belong to something larger than yourself. You are part of a community.

Even if your organization or company does not use Yammer, the change of work space nomenclature from Group to Community has resonance, and I hope will result in some important questions being asked.

Whatever tools we use, wherever we work, we need to be thinking about pro-active ways to be more transparent in our work, to encourage the involvement of other voices and the experience of people outside of our immediate team. We need to explore ways to reduce real or perceived friction between teams, and recognize that our work will effect them, and their work can effect us.

Amongst everything else happening with our workplaces, let’s not forget that 2020 was the #YearofYammer, and with all of the significant changes made to this collaboration platform, maybe the change with the greatest opportunity for impact was the change that encourages us to reframe our work. The change that helps us see the value of others and how they may help us to do better work that reflects the voices of others. The change that reminds us we are not alone in the work we do. That change that helps us stay connected to others, and to feel like we matter, even when we are working from home.

We remember these things, because we are a community.

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