Where Do Your Document Creators Live?

eWeek has an interesting article this week on how Yammer is integrating with Microsoft Office.

I have been thinking about this:

Yammer also showed off its planned Office Web app integration, which [Yammer co-founder and general manager of the Microsoft Office division Adam] Pisoni describes as his favorite. “We have this amazing ability to let people connect and communicate and collaborate, but they still have to go somewhere else to work on documents,” he said.

Users will soon have the ability to edit Word documents or PowerPoint presentations directly within the browser. Devised as a way to get employees to work collaboratively on a single copy of an Office document and reduce the number of attachments clogging up inboxes, the capability will soon allow Yammer users to edit and save changes in Office documents without leaving Yammer.

A very large number of us spend our days working with other people on the creation of documents, using a range of strategies:

  • There is the classic asynchronous approach – As the document owner, I write my version, send it via email to others for comments, they turn on track changes and send it back, I have to manage several different versions, and we do this through several revision cycles.
  • There’s the synchronous approach – we have a meeting, I display my doc, and I edit it as people in the meeting make modifications.
  • There’s the chat-enhanced approach – I write my doc, pausing every so often to skype/instant message/tweet/yammer/chatter my questions to people who know and incorporate their input that way.
  • There’s the forum-enhanced approach – I post my draft in the forum, and request comments. Others download the draft, and turn on track changes, and repost their edits, or if they are just commenting, they might just post some comments in the forum.

No matter which approach I use – and to be honest, I switch among all of these, because I’m rarely working solo — for the time I’m actually drafting,  I would describe the process as “living” in my document, and reaching out from there to other resources.  The resources I consult tend to be other documents, which may live on my local drive or in shared organizational repositories, web sites, which I go to from my browser, or other people.  How I reach out to those people depends on a whole range of factors, which include

  1. Whether the folks are internal to my org – If they aren’t,  I’ll use email or the phone, because that’s what most of my external colleagues respond to.
  2. Whether the question I have requires a quick off the top of the head answer or a bit of a conversation – skype text chat is great for the top of the head, but if I need to talk for a bit, then I’ll want to consider
    1. Do I want to be able to refer back to this discussion? – if so a post to the organizational forum is probably my best bet
    2. Do I need to provide lengthy background info for my question? – again, the forum wins for this.
    3. Am I hoping for an answer which is a link to another resource? – I’m going to want the forum, so I don’t lose the thing in a chat stream somewhere.
    4. Do I need to defuzz my thinking in order to even get to the right question? – in that case, a voice conversation using skype or phone is probably the place to start

So I guess I’m not sure it matters whether I have to “go somewhere else” to access a document.  For the time I’m composing it, the document is the center of my world, and my main goal in collaborating with others is to reach them wherever THEY happen to live.  To the extent I’m assisting with somebody else’s document, I pretty much expect to have to “go somewhere else” to get to it, but I expect the requester to find me where I am and to make accessing that doc simple.

An effective collaboration platform is one which makes it easy to reach out to others, from wherever one happens to “live”, and easy for them to respond.  For us at Q2, our Q2 eLearning System forums are our primary communication and file sharing platform, because we depend heavily on the institutional memory we’ve built there.  But we are enthusiastic  skypers and emailers and telephoners, because  we need to meet everyone we work with where they “live.”