Working Out Loud is social collaboration in the truest sense of the word

Interview with Thomas Schlebach, Presales Consultant at BVG Communication Technologies

Interviewer: Philipp Bohn, VP Circuit at Unify and CEO of blueKiwi

The concept of "New Work" comprises a variety of organizational, social and technological developments. These range from coworking, social collaboration tools, digitization or flexible career models to new forms of collaboration, such as Working Out Loud.

I talked to Thomas Schlebach from our partner BVG Communication Technologies about Working Out Loud, how it changes the process of collaboration, and what other people who are interested in it can learn from his experiences.


Philipp: Thomas, what is Working Out Loud?

Thomas: Working Out Loud (WOL) is social collaboration in the truest sense of the word, i.e. the company-wide and cross-departmental exchange of knowledge and skills. John Stepper developed the WOL framework, making him the one of the key thought leaders of the movement.

A WOL Circle consists of a maximum of five participants and usually runs for twelve weeks. At the beginning of a Circle, participants define a personal goal that they want to achieve in the twelve weeks. In addition to content-related work, the method is trained and deepened weekly in a one-hour physical or virtual meeting. The material for learning all about the methodology is available as a "Circle Guide."

Philipp: How did you hear about WOL?

Thomas: When I read the first article about WOL a couple of years ago, I was immediately fascinated: it was new, interesting, and addressed a specific need. I joined a virtual WOL community and got an initial overview. I always found myself having a look and reading through community postings, but at first I couldn't find a concrete way to get involved.

At this year's Call Center World trade fair, I met my good friend Barbara Koch. We got talking about WOL and I found out that she has been active in the community for many years. That same evening, I joined the Working Out Loud group on Facebook, followed the ongoing discussion, and looked for the right Circle as a newbie.

Philipp: What Circle are you active in and what's your personal goal?

Thomas: Due to my work in the field of presales and consulting in unified communication and collaboration, I am often with customers and rarely at home. A Circle in Landshut, where I live, was therefore not an option. But that wasn't a problem for me, because in terms of mindset and toolset I am used to working in virtual teams.

My virtual Circle includes four participants with individual goals who live in Germany and work in different companies. Like me, they are rarely at home for professional and personal reasons.

With the help of the network and the knowledge of the Circle, my personal goal is to make my Enterprise 2.0 #SoMe Community better known and to acquire new members.

Philipp: And how do you organize virtual collaboration?

Thomas: For our introduction session, we used videoconferencing because a personal meeting would have been far too complicated given the distances. I then suggested Circuit. Thanks to how easy it is to take part using a simple browser link, this idea was also very well received.

Based on my past experiences with various tools, I was somewhat skeptical before the first meeting, but we didn't encounter any technical problems in the end. All the participants were in the video session at the agreed time. We got to know each other in a good two-hour session and decided to learn about the WOL methodology together and collaborate to achieve our personal goals.

Circuit was set as a common communication platform and I was appointed as the moderator. I now organize our weekly meetings by uploading the corresponding Circle Guides to our conversation. Thanks to Circuit, we have the opportunity to stay in touch even outside our virtual meetings and discuss the topics and distributed tasks in the chat. Because we are all very mobile, we use either smartphones, tablets, or laptops.

As a platform, this is my vision for a digital networked collaboration. Whether within the company or with partners and customers, processes are accelerated and communication becomes more multifaceted. For me, emails are becoming more and more uncommon as communication is increasingly taking place in the form of conversations.

Philipp: What lessons did you learn and what recommendations can you share?

Thomas: WOL helps me to achieve my new personal goal and to reflect on myself professionally and personally outside my immediate circle of colleagues and friends. From a technical point of view, it was important for me to have a common communication platform for our virtual Circle that enables voice and video communication in very good quality, with ease of use and compatibility with all devices. WOL is about communication from person to person so it deserves very good tool quality.

With regard to tools, I have also found that social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Xing or corporate Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) are suitable for initiating contacts. However, actual communication and added value in the WOL Circle happens on social collaboration platforms such as Circuit, because it is primarily about direct personal exchange. And for that we mostly need voice, video, screen sharing, chat, and file sharing.

Philipp: Is WOL mainstream?

Thomas: Yes, I believe WOL is mainstream. It's not a gimmick or a "cult" but a very big, global community. There are circles in Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, the UK, China, and many other countries. In Germany, examples such as Siemens, Bosch, Continental, and Daimler demonstrate that WOL – and thus company-wide and cross-departmental collaboration – has also made its way into the corporate world.

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About Thomas Schlebach

Presales Consultant at BVG Communication Technologies
Thomas Schlebach is responsible for presales and consulting for unified communication and collaboration solutions at BVG Communication Technologies. Thomas is based in Landshut, Germany.

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