“We started to use the 4th Office two years ago. We wanted to be much more collaborative in the way we work.”
Mike Weston is the CEO of Profusion, a London-based data science consultancy company specialising in the interactions between organisations and people. The services they offer to clients require them to collaborate internally on an enormous amount of sensitive material. Being able to do that securely, easily and at any time was among the key reasons they decided to move to the 4th Office in 2012.
This agile workspace in the cloud integrates tools like emails, newsfeeds and third-party enterprise apps. It also combines project management, document and file sharing.
With them, Profusion seems to have found the balance between flexibility and structure. So much so that the tool “has become the centrepiece of our digital workplace. We don’t use the intranet any more.”
Where are our documents?
Probably the best way to explain why they started using the platform is demonstrated by Weston’s personal experience with searching documents. “In the past it was almost impossible to figure out where my presentations were placed among thousands of folders. I was struggling when looking for confidential business contracts and other information of similar nature. Being able to control our document management system was a major need and a big step toward working better.”
Since adopting the 4th Office they have switched from a complex tree document structure to a more dynamic one, integrating it with applications such as Dropbox and Pipedrive for content management system.
Another issue that was particularly relevant to Weston was the ability to work collaboratively on shared documents. “The truth is that the system is not perfect, but the live editing of material works very well. That has been another big plus for us.”
The solution is also mobile-friendly; “it works very well on tablets, enabling remote employees to collaborate from anywhere.”
A useful communications tool
Eventually the 4th Office grew to encompass Profusion’s enterprise social network (ESN), which they have called the BCS.
“As well as the document management system the tool give us all the benefits of sharing, commenting and discussing. We use that capability to fuel our social conversations and internal campaigns. It has become a useful employee communication tool.”
The BCS is largely used for blogging. “We made the point that blogging at least once a week is important for the business. Why do we do that? Because it allows us to share what we think as an organisation. It is a way of giving anyone a voice and personality.”
Blogging as part of the business
The toughest challenge corporate communicators face is explaining to their CEO the benefits of using social media inside the enterprise. That is not the case at Profusion; Weston thinks that it is both a necessity and responsibility of everyone in the company “to put their thoughts on what is out there, even – and perhaps most importantly – when they do not necessarily agree with each other.” That is why he also believes that blogging should not be performed purely by the marketing team.
To give an example, he talks about a blog post that one of their consultants wrote a few weeks ago. It was about the tension between banks having access to data on what their customers are doing (e.g. booking an holiday) and how they should act based on that information (e.g. blocking their credit cards once abroad). This can have huge implications (e.g. creating frustration to customers in a foreign country).
That blog post opened up a meaningful discussion around finding the right balance between the sensible uses of data and having secure processes into place. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we, as data scientists, support banks in understanding the context in which these types of situations emerge?’. Those conversations helped us think things through.”
While the BCS is mainly used for core business activities and has groups set up mostly around projects, employees also use it to discuss their passions. This helps to familiarise reluctant users with the tool. “For example, we run a photography competition when we launched the BCS. We invited staff to upload their pictures and describe them through presentations. We saw a huge amount of images and interactions coming out of that, which was important to drive the network.”
Another popular non-work related group is Talking Points. Employees use it to share and discuss any type of external content – from news about what is happening in the world to cartoons and movies.
“It is the place where the social capabilities of the platform are really standing out – information just flows freely!”
Those leadership meetings
The BCS is also enabling leaders to have better meetings. Every Monday they gather together to discuss how they are doing as a business.
“In the past we used to spend two to three hours only to give each other updates on the previous week. Today instead, we post our briefs on Friday so that colleagues can read them and be ready ahead of the meeting.”
This saves time and allows them to have much more focused discussions when they meet. “We just talk about the things that really matter. Ultimately, it leads to better decision-making.”
A self-perpetuating habit
The early and late majority have now adopted the 4th Office inside Profusion. “It has become the fabric of the way we work.” With a new office to open in Dubai soon, “being able to interact across countries through the platform will be even more key.”
Weston thinks that the use of the tool has little to do with job titles or functions but rather with how people think about collaboration.
For the early adopters he suggests not forcing people. “Do not dictate, or they will find a way around to resist the change.
“It is better to give them the time to experiment. Ultimately, you will find that it becomes a self-perpetuating habit.”