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How To Inspire Employee And Vendor Collaboration Using Communities

Community. Collaboration. Flexible. Scalable. Digital. Mobile-first. Relationships. ROI. Buzzwords abound to describe employee and vendor communities. However, with several years since the concept launched, do they work? Do they accomplish what they set out to do? Or are they just another social network no one has time for? Certainly, while there has been a backlash against the forcing of employees to use software or app that serves as a distraction without any real value, companies are now revisiting the idea of communities for everyone’s benefit. This has been driven by several reasons: As the pandemic continues and employees are still working from home, stronger tools are needed for employees to capture and share ideas, experiences, and feedback on projects. Instant messages are simply not robust enough.

Organizations are accumulating more and more knowledge. This knowledge needs to be stored in an accessible format, for retrieval and use by other employees. There are several  benefits to knowledge management, as cited on LinkedIn and other sources.

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Culture Of Collaboration And ROI

However, at its core, a community relies on an organization’s culture of collaboration. This means creating a work environment that gives workers space to communicate openly and honestly and to form meaningful bonds with one another. “When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members,”

writes Annamarie Mann, a former workplace analytics practice manager at Gallup, in the Slack blog, “they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business.” 

Indeed, facilitating collaboration is key to improving employee productivity. The Institute for Corporate Productivity and Professor Rob Cross of Babson College carried out a survey of 1,100 companies and found that collaborative work is five times more likely to result in higher performance , as reported in CMSWire.  A collaborative environment also helps lower costs, shorten timelines, improve productivity and increase ROI.  

However, on the flip side, a lack of collaboration can lead to bottlenecks, missed deadlines, misunderstandings, errors, and inefficiencies that negatively impact productivity. 

To encourage collaboration among teams in different locations, organizations need to provide employees with the right tools so they can communicate and work together efficiently and cost-effectively. 

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Use Cases For Communities

Long before the pandemic separated employees and customers physically, communities were built for one of several purposes. 

Internal: Employees to meet regarding internal, company issues, such as learning and development, benefits, employee resource groups, and the like.

Customers: Companies had begun to use communities as a way for customers to interact with other customers. Companies would encourage this as a way for customers to discuss ways that they are using the company’s products and services in new, interesting ways. Additionally, companies realized that a customer community could be a useful way for customers to answer each other’s questions, and salespeople could check in on customers’ activity in the community to determine whether a new business opportunity might exist. 

Hybrid: This type of community would be a catch-all, comprised of employees, ex-employees, customers, partners, suppliers, and others who might be “fans” of the company and its products and services. Of course, because every organization is different, there is no single “right” way of creating and maintaining a community. Some companies start a community internally, and then eventually open it up to customers, vendors, and partners in slow, measurable intervals or stages.

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Hurdles To Overcome 

The problem with online communities is that there are simply so many of them now. Your employees and customers may already be members of relevant Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, Slack communities, or closed WhatsApp chat groups. (They might even have their own room on Clubhouse, too.)

Telling them that there is a new community for them to join might be met with frustration: a new app to download, a new username and password to create, a new profile to fill out, and the like. 

To ensure that your community gets off to a rolling start, create content that addresses these issues head-on. Take the time to develop questions and answers that can fit within the following types of content pieces, in order to address naysayers early on:

Manifesto: The “why.” Discuss how existing communities were falling short of your employee or customer needs.

Terms and conditions: Apart from the legalese, explain that this is an inclusive community without any single “right” or expected way of participating.

How-to guide: How to use the community and its features, no matter how simple some of the features might be.

Tips and tricks: Lesser-known features that have a “cool” factor, or helpful shortcuts.

Best practices: When available, showcase employees, teams, or customers who are maximizing the benefits of the community.

Community Work

How To Make The Community Work 

Companies know that employees, vendors, and clients are most likely not sitting in front of the community website or app all day long waiting to engage. So how do companies ensure that the community gets utilized so that bigger-picture goals get met?

How do they create success? Like other enterprise software and apps, there are a few key features that a community has which can help build engagement and utilization:

Accessibility: Ensure that the community is accessible to all who should participate. This means that the community should be available via any Web browser, platform, or device, in order to give users the most choice. 

UX: The community should have a user experience (UX) that is simple, beautiful, and intuitive, regardless of where the user accesses it. Further, the team managing the community must consider any and all promotional opportunities. Marketing may seem like an odd consideration, but if the community isn’t promoted internally and externally from the get-go, there won’t be sufficient discovery and utilization. Consider the following to promote your community:

Alerts: Make sure that alerts, for browser, desktop, and mobile app versions, are the default setting. Borrowing a page from LinkedIn and the other social networks: alerts might be turned on by default, but in order to not risk annoying members, only turn on selected alerts. 

Links everywhere: Encourage employees to, when possible, reference content published in the community in emails and instant messages to team members. Clearly, not all documents or materials should live in the community, but perhaps when trying to explain a similar or previous situation or discussion, have employees provide links to the community pages as reference. 

Evangelists: Discover employees around the company who are “power users” of the platform and encourage them to spread the good word about the benefits of the community. Perhaps incentivize them in some way, with a badge or graphic in their thumbnail photo. They can also add “Community Manager” to their job title and if funds are available, consider sending them for additional training from the vendor or consultant to recognize them for their contributions. 

Curious about how a community can supercharge your organization’s collaboration and productivity?

LNB Solutions can help take your organization to the next level by developing and implementing a scalable community in which your employees, vendors, partners, and customers can participate actively.

From document sharing to knowledge management to polls to knowledge management, LNB Solutions can help customize the digital community experience you wish to provide. 

To learn more about communities,  contact us today.