Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Online Workspaces for Extended Teams

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It’s not uncommon for a workgroup to include team members that are outside the originating organization. This can happen when you’re dealing with external content providers, clients, partners, consultants or sub-contractors. Oftentimes, these kind of extended team projects pop up quickly, and you need to find a reasonable place to share files and other project content: graphics, documents, links, bios, schedules, etc.

Most internal systems present some difficult hurdles in these cases. If your organization is running SharePoint, it’s difficult to authenticate people who aren’t in the company directory. You can ask your IT department to add external people to the directory for the sake of the project but the request, if it’s granted, might take weeks to be delivered.

So it’s logical to look around for public, cloud offerings to support your extended and distributed workgroup.

  • You could use file sharing sites like Box or Dropbox or Yousendit . But ultimately, these are static repositories: good at storage, but not great at building and supporting a dynamic team
  • Basecamp is a popular alternative. It too has file sharing, and adds rudimentary social commenting. It also includes simple calendaring, which can be helpful for a project. Of course, the service may be simple but it’s not free, which can get in the way of getting a project started quickly.
  • You could use online document editors and repositories like Google Docs , Zoho or Acrobat.com . These have the advantage of sharing the current version of the project files, and enabling co-authored content. In a way, they’re like the file sharing sites, except that you can also edit the files. But, like file sharing sites, they are pretty static and don’t offer a person-centric model for engagement.

Social Business Networks are the Answer

To create a really dynamic and productive environment for our extended teams, you should take a look at social business networks such as Convo  or Yammer . These apps have the same file sharing ability as many of these other sites, but don’t limit the overall size of your storage. Convo also enables rich commenting and collaboration, so if you are working with others on documents, images, videos or web pages, Convo is a great way to work together.

Here’s how it works: Social Business Networks are meant for use within an organization – that is, workers who share the same email domain. However, when you create groups in Convo, or external networks in Yammer, you can invite people from outside your organization. Those participants can only view and collaborate on content shared in the groups to which they are invited. They do not have the ability to create other groups, but otherwise have most of the standard functionality available to them, including email notifications.

Convo Example

  • ExtendedNetworkModel2The image at right depicts several groups created by members of a primary Convo network.
  • Members of the originating network are in blue. Clearly, you need at least one member of the primary network in each group, which is how the group would be created.
  • You may also notice that external collaborators may belong to more than one group. The green and orange characters, for example, are each in two groups.
  • The user experience to the external collaborators is virtually identical to the internal participants. When they log in to Convo, they will have a primary news feed, which will show all content added to the group(s) to which they have been invited.
  • One other important item: external participants may themselves be part of their own Convo network. In the image at right, the orange character belongs to his/her own network.
  • Note: when the orange character switched networks from his primary network, he will be logged off from one as he is logged into the other. This way there is no chance that content will accidentally be migrated from one network to another.

One final but important note: Unlike many of the aforementioned solutions, most current social business networks are free to use, and the functionality of the standard edition is generally sufficient for many extended networks. If not, there is generally a Premium version to help provide you more control and administrative features.

So when working with a distributed team try Social Business Networks like Convo or Yammer: there’s no better way to enable organizations to work more effectively with partners, consultants, contractors, agencies and other extended team members.

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Written by tstaley

September 28, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Collaboration, Networks

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