Introduce Working Out Loud in Your Employee Community

Have you seen people online talking about "#WOL?" What does it stand for? 

Is it Shetland Wool Week?

#WOL and #WOLweek have nothing to do with the world-renowned celebration of Britain's most northerly native sheep, the Shetland textile industry and the area's rural farming community. #WOL is about celebrating the open acknowledgement of an employee's hard work in the office that may otherwise go unnoticed. It might make you feel warm and fuzzy, like wool, but it's not necessarily guaranteed. 

The acronym stands for "Working Out Loud." This week marks International Working Out Loud (#WOL) Week, and Talk Social To Me is demystifying the concept, originally created by author John Stepper, in a series of blog posts.

WOL is building meaningful relationships with others based on generosity and shared purpose. In short – the idea is to give your time and energy to others openly, without expecting anything in return.

  Photo used under Creative Commons 2.0 license. Photo by:   wetwebwork

Photo used under Creative Commons 2.0 license. Photo by:  wetwebwork

So, how does this apply to your fellow employees at a company? A company’s mission and vision already brings a sense of shared purpose, WOL can help employees and teams work more openly to reach those mutual goals so everyone succeeds. Community managers are the connectors who catalyze reciprocity, social capital, and sharing in the community by using Working Out Loud as an engagement technique. If employees give their time, ideas, opinions and support to the work of others, especially in a visible way inside a community, then others can as well. The community manager’s role is to then tell, share and draw attention to those stories and pivotal events that happen to attract new teams, departments, and business units into the fold.

Externalize Employee Work

If your company is transitioning to or re-ignite its employee network, WOL helps you start small and establish a culture of learning from and helping each other. These are the foundational behaviors of intra-company collaboration. But how can community managers actually model and foster WOL in corporate cultures that may have policy or cultural barriers? Here are a few tips to getting Working Out Loud started at your organization.

  • Begin with existing organizational groups and shared goals. Teams that already work closely together, perhaps even in a region or satellite location are ideal. Leveraging existing trust and familiarity among the team paves the way for daily experiences to be externalized. It’s also a more a familiar way to bring your first teams into the community. Over time connections between people who would otherwise never have interacted before get created. At Talk Social to Me, the team works across four time zones, but because we WOL, we are in sync with each other’s work at every moment.
  • Employ strong governance. For many companies, WOL itself isn’t what makes users wary or even fearful of sharing information, even accidentally, in communities. Instead, it’s conservative corporate culture that inhibits engagement and informality. A community manager can help be present to represent solid policies and governance that are established up front. With the help of an organization’s legal, human resources and information technology groups, users are assured in advance of a “buttoned up” community management process. A great way to make this information available is via a community playbook.
  • Create WOL education. In addition to governance, comfort with WOL comes naturally from users who’ve had strong education as well as specific examples of what to do and what not to do, and why. Make sure your users understand that your community is secure and that there is a difference between private vs. open groups. Who can see the information being shared is important to create employee trust. This means using groups to invite collaboration and commentary that makes sense.
  • Evangelize. Community managers have an important and visible role as the host of a large, virtual party. The community manager has the responsibility to model as well as evangelize great WOL behavior and bring good examples to everyone’s attention. Drawing attention to these examples is something everyone can learn from, recognizes those exemplary community members and helps foster these “early adopters” so they can become future champions that help scale as the community grows.  

Remember, start small and be sure to invest in time to teach people how to WOL. How much time? Well, communities are built on relationships--your company culture and your leaders play a critical role in encouraging employees to make the shift. Once trust is established, WOL principles start will bring forth network effects to the employees who are participating.