Shortening the Social Tool Learning Curve with Open Office Hours

We strove from the onset to make the technical part of social networking as easy as possible and really modified our ESN platform to focus on the basic elements of social; community, collaboration and sharing. No frills, no unnecessary functionality. Our strategy has been “grease the wheel only when it squeaks,” meaning that we will present functionality and features when the needs arise.  Even with a Simple is the New Black belief, an ESN is still foreign territory even for regular users of open tools and platforms. There is a learning curve for some especially when it comes to settings, notifications and the creating of streams to be more laser focused on the conversations they want to be a part of.  In addition to video demos and job aids being available in the platform itself, we would be naive to think people would naturally seek those out as their default learning action. We know people are much more apt to give it a try and then pop their heads in another’s cubicle and ask for assistance. It’s human nature to do first, ask questions later.

Early on we launched a series called Friday Features Feature and tagged it as #FFF in the platform. These 20-25min informal webinar events happened around lunch time where people could register in advance and set their calendars to attend. Very informal with a single objective highlighting the “how to” of a certain feature but with significant emphasis on the “why to.” My Performance Specialist, Nona Gormley wondered aloud if we couldn’t take this a step further, to make it even more convenient for our workforce as this has always been my battle cry: limited (learning) friction on the workflow. Her suggestion was to make it possible for anyone at anytime to reach out and have somebody walk through a feature or process. From this the idea of Open Office Hours was born.

Using a combination of Join.me and an internal conference line, I set up a 6 hour window where my screen was being shared (showing our ESN) and the conference line was open. No registration and 3 simple steps. Below is the invite.

From 9:00am to 3:00pm the lines were open.  We had 3 callers/observers attend in our first effort with specific questions about settings and other features. In some cases the questions were beyond my understanding of the tool’s capabilities but it led us to explore together, in the open. Humbling to some extent but I think it was also quite humanizing to the attendee, as it makes things a bit less intimidating when someone like me who has success with social tools reveals that he doesn’t know it all. This took me back to the point I was making in my post Learning Through Inexperts, that learning with and through even those muddling about can be beneficial to build community understanding.

By Snowded CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To sum up, technology is logical, people are not. People are inconsistent and emotional. So in terms of Dave Snowden‘s Cynefin model, when environments are complex, such as organizational ones, sense making only happens in retrospect. So the efforts to enable and support people using social tools can’t have a rigid strategy but require more of a flexible ‘Probe-Sense-Respond‘ process.  For me this means to try something, see how it works and either expand it, or move on from it.

An Open Office Hours approach is just that, and although only 3 took advantage this time, it’s far from a failure and more likely something we will tweak and try again soon.

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