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Over the past three years or so, “Working Out Loud” (WOL) as a term and a concept has gained popularity to an extent that perhaps nobody could have anticipated. It’s a topic that DWG and its members have kept an eye on and something we’ve featured in both our knowledge exchanges and podcast. While it started out as a relatively specialist “movement”, WOL has proved to be far more than just a fad. The term has now taken on wider usage to describe sharing work openly, and we frequently stumble across it being used inside companies as part of the vocabulary of why employees should use social and collaboration tools, or as a strand of an initiative to drive adoption in the digital workplace and try out new ways of working. Working Out Loud advocates networking with colleagues and sharing work-in-progress for input, feedback and transparency. The use of social networks and tools is often regarded as a facilitator for WOL, although the practice also happens face-to-face. Nobody has done more to formalize (and popularize) WOL than John Stepper, who introduced the concept at Deutsche Bank and has since written the definitive book. Stepper talks about five pillars of WOL:

  1. Make your work visible
  2. Lead with generosity
  3. Build a social network
  4. Make it purposeful
  5. Have a growth mindset

WOL appears to have staying power. Let’s explore some of the reasons why WOL has grown in popularity and why it is good for the digital workplace.

1. WOL is enabled by the digital workplace

WOL is a natural fit with the digital workplace because of the emphasis on networking and use of social tools. A well-designed digital workplace with an effective employee directory, where users can find other colleagues and experts, have the ability to easily share documents and hold discussions with either a closed group, wider community or even across the enterprise, is a key enabler of Working Out Loud. In turn, WOL provides a convincing and tangible use case for the digital workplace and  can also help to drive familiarity and adoption of different digital workplace tools. As the digital workplace concept grows in popularity, it’s only natural for WOL to grow too – and vice versa.

2. WOL is a strong hook into digital literacy

Many organizations are now realizing that the digital literacy of employees is critical to helping unlock the investment made in digital tools and drive the full benefits that can be reaped from digital. WOL encourages employees who perhaps have not used social and collaboration tools before to work more openly through them. In turn, this breeds knowledge and confidence in the use of these tools and in other digital capabilities. WOL complements efforts to drive digital literacy and can even be part of a digital literacy campaign.

3. WOL supports efforts to drive a more positive organizational culture

Many organizations tend to want to move towards a positive organizational culture or to celebrate values which are inherent in the practice of Working Out Loud. For example, organizations might encourage:

  • a more dialogue-based culture where listening is valued
  • transparency
  • an environment where experimentation and innovation are encouraged, and people aren’t scared to fail
  • more connectivity, collaboration and networking across potential silos.

The practice of Working out Loud fits in perfectly with all these and similar aspirations.  

4. WOL benefits individuals as much as organizations

WOL is clearly good for organizations that want to drive collaboration and connections, but it is as much about personal development as it is about adopting an encouraged working style. This personal angle is strongly covered in the methodology described by Stepper’s book about “Circles”, which are small confidential groups where people can share their work in a safe space. The idea of Circles is less to create mini-communities but more to help individuals develop WOL-related habits and experience some kind of personal growth. WOL is very much a win–win in terms of both organizational and personal benefits.  

5. WOL is beneficial for senior management

WOL can be a particularly effective style of working for senior management. It not only drives trust with employees (which can be good for engagement) but also provides opportunities for healthy dialogue. Employee feedback is highly valuable and allows senior leaders to get an effective pulse check on employee sentiment. Don’t underestimate the power that a CEO who Works Out Loud can have on management and employee behaviour.  

6. WOL supports health and well-being

Health and well-being have been on the corporate agenda for a while now and organizations are keen to promote working practices which support the well-being of employees. WOL has the potential to be a good fit for a well-being programme, as it helps to reduce stress by promoting connections and conversation between employees, and encourages employees to be open and honest. An employee Working Out Loud asks for help, rather than working in isolation.

7. WOL is maturing in some organizations

As WOL matures, some organizations are helping to formalize the practice through initiatives which encourage, support and embed Working Out Loud. For example, in a recent Digital Workplace Impact podcast, we found out how Mike Fraietta from BNY Mellon led a programme to encourage WOL right across the business using a range of different tools. Meanwhile, at Bosch the company has introduced formal support for WOL with its own community, a process for organizing a circle, executive sponsorship and evaluation criteria. These efforts show how practices are maturing and offer inspiration for other digital workplace teams to help support and nurture Working Out Loud.

Working Out Loud is here to stay

Working Out Loud has taken off because it’s a useful term and practice to describe the more open style of working facilitated by the digital workplace. Terms and concepts in the space come and go, but we can reasonably expect Working Out Loud to be around for a few more years. And if it ever becomes the normal way of working, then we won’t even need a term to describe it.

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About the author

Steve-BynghallSteve Bynghall is a research associate, benchmark evaluator and knowledge manager for DWG. He is also a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in knowledge management, collaboration, intranet and social business. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing its global extranet programme. He recently co-wrote a book on crowdsourcing with Ross Dawson.

Steve is passionate about being able to work from anywhere, and is occasionally seen in local coffee shops with his trusty laptop. When not working, Steve can be found exploring London with his family.

Connect with Steve on Twitter: @bynghall or on Google +.

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