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Watercooler for Employees – Wherever Your Work

Work-at-home customer service reps who take calls for companies like Vermont Teddy Bear, 1-800-Flowers and Office Depot now have a fresh way to trade ideas and to socialize. The reps’ employer, Alpine Access made it happen. It is a start-up serving smallish businesses. Adapting the social networking phenomenon to their employees’ needs, the firm hired HiveLive to help their people connect. Within a month and a half, “more than 1,500 people were using it. Now employees are trading work-related tips and also photos and recipes. They have even set up a classified marketplace to buy and sell items.” A private Gallup study found the obvious: those working remotely from their comfy home and/or as road warriors on the road crave connection with the people in their organization who are in similar jobs and life situations. I discovered this new method via an early investor in HiveLive, VC, popular blogger, Brad Feld.

Must be popular. There’s at least 34 other companies that want to help you build your own social network, yet few seem focussed on supporting organizations in helping their employees collaborate… yet, except Ning. HiveLive CEO John Kembel calls “hives” “the building block of each social network. While other offer individuals the ability to choose options like blogs, wikis or polls, the hive approach lets you design your own application.” For example, even non-geek employees can create a blog, but also design an application that mixes elements of a blog, a wiki and a poll.

This is much different than getting to know strangers as “friends” at some online social networks. What if your work or social organization helped you get to know your colleagues better in this way?

Transparent decision making tends to motivate individuals to become active on behalf of themselves, their sub-group and the whole group.

So, what if companies, clubs, churches, associations, hobbyist and other civic, cause and special interest groups offered this service to their people to:

• Ask for ideas to improve “customer service”, outreach or services and rewarded the best ideas in a way that was meaningful for the kind of people they serve?

• Ask for feedback on leaders’ proposed new initiatives and other changes?

• Seek suggestions for meeting topics, formats, speakers, pre-planning and post-meeting follow-up? Then provide voting options so the most popular choices were the ones used in the meeting.

Recruit and retain valuable workers?

• Enable temployees to honor the biggest contributors – as they see it?

I’m going to share this idea with the call center reps at ICMI in Miami and at Tuanz in New Zealand – with the business communicators at IABC in New York.

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