Virtual Water Coolers

In times of high anxiety, people seek ways to get information, commiserate with fellow sufferers, test rumors and gain perspective. Traditionally, this happened in the office around the proverbial water cooler. However, in this new age of BYOBW (i.e., bring your own bottled water), there are fewer water coolers in offices. And, with the recent uptick in telecommuting, there are fewer hours in a shared physical space.

So where do you go during regular business hours for companionship, comfort and anxiety-busting info when there’s no water cooler? E-mail is a possibility, but it’s a poor way to build community. Google is another option. It provides access to lots of information, but no personal interaction and little context.

While law firm knowledge management programs tend to focus on projects that directly affect client services, you might consider creating an effective virtual water cooler as a more general means of improving the business of your firm. The obvious way to do this is to deploy social media tools behind the firewall to strengthen a sense of community, enhance employee morale and provide an easily accessible forum for the exchange of information. While this information may not always relate directly to any specific client matter, it can go a long way to containing and diminishing anxiety levels. This, in turn, allows employees to focus better on client services.

Imagine a blog that allows practice group leaders to broadcast information on the new client work they are doing despite the economic slowdown, thereby signaling the economic viability of the firm? Or a wiki that enables community members to post links to resources for coping with a collapsing client or a collapsing 401(k) account? A microblog that distributes one of the best antidotes to anxiety: humor. Or RSS set up to provide a client team with the most recent news about the client and its industry so that the team is well-prepared to identify business opportunities and respond to client overtures?

Social media tools behind the firewall can help bolster employee morale and strengthen the fabric of your firm. This in turn helps the employees of your firm deliver better client services. Better client services lead to greater revenues…. You get the picture.

Go ahead and prepare that business case for wiki pages to manage client matters. But while you’re at it, include a proposal to build an employee facing site as well. It may well turn out to be the better investment.

See also, Coping with Anxiety: Change What You Can, Accept the Rest

Laughter: Geek & Poke and the perennial favorite for office humor, Dilbert

One thought on “Virtual Water Coolers

  1. Mary, more and more companies, across geographical and vertical market lines, are realizing the value of wikis for knowledge management and collaboration. A number of wikis offer free trials, so firms can check them out before deciding if one is a right fit or not.

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