blog.frederique.harmsze.nl my world of work and user experiences

February 28, 2015

Share knowledge? Let’s do lunch

Filed under: Digital Workplace,New world of work — frederique @ 20:23

My colleagues and I are consultants, who usually work in different locations. But we need to share knowledge, as in our domain things change a lot and best practices are not necessarily clear cut. So we organise biweekly lunch sessions, where we get together online and offline, to share our questions and answers, tips and tricks, thoughts and results.

Of course we also use digital means to share knowledge, like Yammer groups for discussion, team sites to share more structured information, Lync for meetings and conversations when we have urgent questions. But we like to get together in an informal setting, to discuss interesting projects, new features that we are finding out about, spiffy solutions to problems that others may also be experiencing, and anything else that is on our mind.

In our department, Macaw Workplace Solutions, we have been organizing biweekly lunch sessions for several years now. Other departments are also starting lunch sessions, and the new organisers asked me for some tips. So let me share my tips and lessons learned concerning knowledge sharing lunch sessions.

Locate offline and online, live and recorded

  • Meeting room for people in the office: We prefer to meet in person, to be able to look each other in the eye as we discuss our knowledge. So we book a meeting room in our headquarters that is large enough to accommodate the people who can make it there.
    • Practical tip: Book the meeting room in advance, even when you don’t know yet who the speaker will be.
  • Lync for people who are elsewhere: When we are at a client’s office, for example, we can join online, via Lync. We are in the New World of Work after all…
    • Practical tip: In the Lync meeting, you can switch off audio for the participants, if there are too many of them and the session becomes messy. I usually ask the participants to mute themselves while they eat (it is a lunch session after all…), and unmute themselves to join the discussion when they have a question or a contribution.

      Invitation to a lunch sessions, including a Lync Meeting. Set the options in the Lync meeting according to your needs.

      Invitation to a lunch sessions, including a Lync Meeting. Set the options in the Lync meeting according to your needs.

    • Practical tip: Try to get a meeting room with a RoundTable videoconferencing device or something similar. We hardly ever use the video part of it, as we look at the presenter’s shared desktop, to see his or her demo or presentation. But we do use the audio part: the participants online can hear everything that is discussed in the meeting room and join in. If audio only comes from the microphone in the speaker’s laptop, the online participants can’t hear the offline participants’ questions and remarks.
  • Lync recording: For people who can’t make it at all, we make a recording of the entire session. These recordings are then shared in our digital workplace environment.
    Start recording in your Lync meeting

    Start recording in your Lync meeting

    • Practical tip: record the session from a computer that is firmly connected to the network and to a power source, to avoid hiccups. I’ve ended up with a disappointing recording when I tried to record the session from a wobbly outside network and I won’t try that again…

Time during our lunch break, biweekly

  • Biweekly: We organise a session every other week. This is a rhythm we can sustain, without taking too much time from the volunteers who present their work and ideas or from the participants.
    • Practical tip: Don’t aim for a frequency that you cannot sustain. Once you have to start canceling sessions because you can’t find enough speakers, your series may fall apart.
  • Fixed day and time: We have a regular schedule, so that people can predict when the next lunch session will take place, even if it has not been announced yet. That makes it easier to join. We alternate between Wednesdays and Thursdays, because there was no single day when every colleague could attend. If we would always pick, for example, Wednesdays, we would exclude some colleagues. Now we know that everybody can at least attend some sessions.
    • Practical tip: Ask your colleagues which days they would prefer (in a survey for example). Consider alternating between two days, especially if you know that colleagues would be unable to attend at all during the single day you pick, because it is their part-time day or because they are working at a client’s office without an opportunity to dial in via Lync.
    • Practical tip: Book the meeting room and the speaker for 30 minutes before the session is scheduled to start, so that you have time to set things up. Then you can fight with uncooperative devices without annoying a dozen or more colleagues who don’t want to sacrifice their lunchtime for delays.
  • Lunchtime works well: Years ago, we organised knowledge sessions in the evenings. But then the group of colleagues grew older, started families, and it became more difficult to claim the evenings for work-related knowledge sharing. If we organise these sessions during working hours, most colleagues could not attend due to project-related commitments. So the lunch break is a nice compromise.
    • Practical tip: Start a bit later than lunch hour. The participants usually want to go to the cafeteria to grab a take-away lunch first (no, we don’t have funding to actually offer the participants lunch during our lunch sessions…). When we started at 12:00 sharp; many participants were still in the queue at the cafeteria and arrived late….

Invite speakers who have done an interesting project

  • Don’t wait for volunteers, but ask: My colleagues don’t often come up to me and proactively tell me they want to present their work at a lunch session. But when I ask them, they are ready enough to volunteer their time and share their knowledge.
    • Practical tip: Try to get backing from your management, so that you can spend official time on this. It does take time to organise these meetings and prepare a presentation (especially for novice presenters), and if it is all your own time, the series may fail.
  • Put out feelers and ask for ideas: I try to keep an eye on the discussions in Yammer and other channels. And I spar with a colleague who has a better overview than I have of the projects that we do and the challenges that we run into. That gives us ideas that we can discuss with potential speakers.
    • Pratical tip: Put ideas in a shared list. If they don’t work out now, they may result in a lunch session later.

Advertise to the core audience and all other colleagues

  • Put up a clear announcement: Tell the prospective audience what they can expect from the lunch session, so that they can decide if it is relevant for them:
    • Practical tip: Include:
      • the name of the speaker,
      • the title of the sessions,
      • an abstract,
      • the type of session (is it about a specific project we did for a client or about the technology or tools?),
      • the target audience (for example, is it a technical session for developers, or a business oriented session that is also interesting for sales people?),
      • the level (can anybody follow the session or is it for specialists only?)
  • Send Outlook invitation to the core audience: I send Outlook invitations to the colleagues in my department and to the colleagues in other departments for who this particular session could be particularly relevant. The Outlook invitation allows these core participants to put the lunch session in their calendar, including the link to start the session online in Lync.
    • Practical tip: Encourage everybody to forward the invitation to all colleagues that they know would be interested. I don’t know all of my 250 colleagues, so I am taking advantage of our people network …
  • Post it on the intranet and/or internal discussion forum: I put the full announcement, including the link to the Lync version of the meeting, in the Events list we see on the homepage of our intranet. In addition, I post the key information in our Yammer network, in the All Company group. This post links to the event page for further details and the Lync link.
    • Practical tip: Post the invitation about a week before the session, and add a reply on the morning before the session to pull it back up to the top of the page.

So let’s do lunch, in person or virtually, and share our knowledge!

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