A Guide to Using Yammer for Virtual Teams

Post publication note: Yammer is changing, so check whether the features you are looking for still exist before deciding to adopt it.

Have you recently set up as an entrepreneur and finally have people to help you with your venture?
Or maybe you work for a company and your team members are beginning to adopt flexible working.
Or perhaps you’ve just realised that team members are no longer talking to each other while 1000's of emails fly between them every week.

Yammer might help with your new challenge – but only “might”, remember that technology can only solve those problems you have identified correctly.

So, if you’re like me and have just set up a small team whose members don't share the same physical space, why not give Yammer a try.

What’s Yammer?

Yammer is an “enterprise social network”, which simply means something that looks like Facebook but can only be used by your team or organisation. I think Yammer works best with small teams. If you use Facebook, you will know how much content gets generated an hour and how difficult it is to find a post you saw a few days before. And this is of course the problem with all such applications.

Not long ago, a friend of mine who works for a large organisation was telling me she had stopped using Chatter (a similar application), as she could never find anything she wanted. When I had a look at the application itself, I realised that there were ways of preventing this, through the creation of groups and use of the search function. However, I can also see how 1,000 people using this platform can result in floods of information and conversations.

These tools can work, but you need to think through how you set them up. They need to be maintained and you'll need to create guidelines for their use. Otherwise, before you know it, we’ll all be back to sending 100 billion emails a day (yes, really, check out this infographic by RedBooth).

Yammer will not be suitable for all teams – it won’t be suitable for all managers or entrepreneurs. If you’re looking for a neat project management tool, then you might be better off using applications such as Basecamp and Asana which assign tasks and focus more on project logistics than generating conversation. However, if you’re looking for a place where people can share information informally, where they can have conversations that replace those emails they keep cc’ing you on, and where you can share ideas while you shape your project, then Yammer is the tool for you. (Pause: I must say at this point that the one feature I’m missing in Yammer is a calendar...)

Yammer Features

I’ve currently set up a project with some friends. I’ll call it a project because we’re still not quite sure what it is. We've called it happyguiri.com. We think we’ve identified our market and the type of experience we want our customers/users to have. But we haven’t gone much beyond that. Two of my friends live in Spain, so we can’t have coffee often or get on the phone every other day to share ideas and thoughts. And it’s not part of our creative process to wait for a Skype call to share our ideas either. We definitely don’t want to be sending emails in a 4-way conversation – personally, I find them annoying. I also don’t want to have to dig through my emails to find little bits of information or previous thoughts. So, I’ve set up a Yammer network for us. Even though our project is a bit mickey-mouse at the moment, who knows, it might turn into a small business soon.

Using Yammer

Yammer has been set up to be used by organisations, so, ideally, all users need an email connected to the same domain name. Let’s face it, if you’ve just set up a business or if you’re growing your business by engaging freelancers, it’s unlikely that you’ll all share a company address. However, you can easily get around this by creating External Networks. (If you're creating this for a team in an organisation, skip this step.)

Within the network, you have a space where you can keep your files. At the moment there is no file storage limit, although your individual files can’t be over 100MB for Yammer Basic, which is the free option. (Seems pretty good to me.) The network also has a chat function and a mobile app.

For those who are completely addicted to email and the thought of opening a mobile app to post a message easily leads to procrastination, there is even an email address they can use to post. You ‘ll need to confirm each posting by clicking on the CONFIRM button on an email you get by return of post – even if you haven’t ticked “Require all users in your network to confirm their posts made by email before posting.” You’ll then get a confirmation email (so much for reducing the volume of emails).

There is limited configuration for this platform, but it looks pleasant and neutral enough. You can add an image and change the default prompt: “What are you working on?” to something a bit more enticing. (At this point, I should point out that “guiri” is Spanish slang for foreigner.)

 

Create Guidelines

The great thing about working in this way is that it gives work an informal tone, so you probably don’t want to create too many rules about using the space. However, if you don’t highlight the reasons for using the space and communicate the best ways of using it, the space will die a horrible death. I’ve seen this happen twice recently, when I set up the space for two very different small businesses. In both cases, the business owners didn’t create guidelines for their people and didn’t lead by example either. Both spaces have become useless.

At Happyguiri we haven’t even reached the set-up stage, we’re still in the group-of-friends-creating stage, so the only rule we’re following is “let’s use this instead of email”. So far, so good.

But if your virtual team is already co-creating or working together, then you’ll need to provide some guidance on how to move onto this space from email. And, above all, you will need to set an example.

See whether these guidelines could work for you:

  • If you’re about to cc more than two people in an email, could you post on Yammer instead? (You will need to use your common sense to decide how public your conversation is.)
  • Instead of emailing an attachment, can you upload it to Yammer?
  • If you’re going to be unavailable for a period of time, please note it down in the Availability notes in the Note section.

 

  • Let’s check-in every Monday morning and Friday afternoon if possible. Feel free to start that conversation yourselves. Jot down what you'll be working on next and what you have completed. Also feel free to share any problems you have solved or obstacles you've come across. You might be helping someone else in the future.
  • If you want to share notes etc from a meeting with a client or others, include them in the Notes section instead of starting a conversation in the main page. This will allow us to find the notes faster in the future.
  • If your message is urgent, use email or the phone. Remember that not everyone will be checking Yammer every day.
  • If your message is particularly relevant to one person, mention them in the post. They will receive a notification.
  • Change your notifications as you wish, to control the number of emails you receive.

Finally, monitor the network and talk to your people. See how they’re getting on. You’re not just asking them to adapt a new piece of technology: you’re asking them to change their behaviour. And that takes time.