Remember Google Wave? Clearly, Google Buzz has recently overshadowed Google’s other hotly anticipated social communication platform, but before you ditch your Wave account, give it a second try. There are many useful business applications for Wave, especially in situations that call for collaboration with a group or managing a project. Wave can easily allow users to dispense with the formalities (and expenses) of meetings, phone calls, travel, etc. and instead make it easy to collaborate across time and space.
Here are five examples of common workplace activities that Google Wave can support.
1. Conferences and Professional Development
This one probably seems obvious. Departments can set up Google Waves to discuss what’s happening at a particular event. A company with limited funds could send one person to a conference and use Google Wave as a reporting mechanism. Or if several people attend, they can divide/conquer the event and post their ideas and comments in one place.
For example Chris Hoyt, author of the blog The Recruiter Guy, set up a Wave for the human resources and recruiting community during last year’s Social Recruiting Summit. Both attendees and those of us who were interested but couldn’t make it in person were able to join the Wave. It was an opportunity to gain exposure to the content and learn more about the event so people could budget to attend the following year.
One thing I could see emerging from conference Waves are “back channel” discussions. Conference organizers in particular will want to pay particular attention to this and not necessarily view it as a bad thing. If managed properly, it could bring some opportunities for improvement to light during the event.
2. Decision Making and Problem Solving
Using Google Wave to discuss a company challenge could be very beneficial — especially when all of the players aren’t located in the same place. That’s exactly why Troy Peterson, CEO of Nibi Software, used Wave to get the company’s development plan finalized. He brought everyone together in a Wave and let the conversation flow. “The real-time document functionality allowed us to have ‘arguments’ and solve problems together that might otherwise have resulted in ‘back and forth’ threads that went on forever.”
Peterson did mention that adoption was an initial challenge. “Although several of my contacts immediately had Wave accounts, they weren’t necessarily the people I was collaborating with on projects. It required some arm wrestling to get people on board.” But the results were worth it. “In the end, we have a succinct document that we have all agreed on and that we can compare short-term objectives against.”
3. Project Management
The same decision making philosophy applies when you have a project and need to collaborate not only with internal stakeholders, but an external supplier. Google Wave provides an opportunity for collaboration. Hopefully, consultants and/or contractors are able to tap into that dialogue by sharing their Wave account info with client companies.
Rachel Levy, Founder/CEO of the startup website WebinarListings, is using Google Wave with her developer. “We have the list of open items in the Wave, so we can discuss each one. I add an open item, and he can ask me a question about it, or mark it as done.” The main advantage to using this application was being able to track conversations.
This could also be a valuable way to manage the dreaded “scope creep.” You can lay out the entire project in a single Wave once the parameters are agreed upon. Then, you can work through each facet with each side tracking progress and those pesky project deviations. And everything gets documented along the way. New project requirements can even be moved to a new Wave for later consideration.
4. Brainstorming and Idea Cultivation
Brendan Gill, with the firm Staircase3, said he and his partners use Google Wave as a medium to organize and facilitate conversations and feedback. “We are a team of entrepreneurs who like to have an idea and make it happen quickly. We use Google Wave to brainstorm our ideas for new business projects. It’s a great tool for collecting a series of conversations, and we use a different Wave for each different idea.”
Gill explained they would have traditionally used group e-mails for this purpose, but found Wave has numerous advantages, including serving as a centralized repository, and the ability to use add-on features for enhanced productivity. This was especially useful since their management team is located around the globe. “The Ribbit conferencing feature is great for staging an ad hoc conference call. Furthermore, the simple voting widget is a useful way to end each of our Waves where we can stage a vote for a given idea — whether or not we want to put the idea in motion, or just cut it loose.”
5. Virtual Meetings and Reduced Travel
Let’s face it. Bringing groups of people together can be expensive. Depending on the project, Google Wave could help foster dialogue without a lot of travel, phone calls, etc. Gill mentioned using Wave to make edits and adjustments on business proposals without having people travel to a central location. “Using Wave definitely reduces the need for thousand-dollar transatlantic flights and many tons of carbon emissions. Obviously without Wave, we would still use e-mails and teleconferencing, but using a better communications platform has definitely cut a number of flights out of our schedule,” he said.
Gill added that, “Collaboration can be done in real-time, if required, which is useful if you’re trying to rush out a project that has to happen quickly or not at all. Or for longer-term projects, you can take your time to think about an idea and come back to the plan at any time you like.”
If you’re looking for a way to streamline communications on your next project, Peterson suggests that you “Sign up and use the tool. It may not revolutionize your company’s communications, but it is useful and worth the effort involved in figuring out how it works for your organization.”
Remember the success of a Wave is contingent upon the active participation of the individuals involved. Waves need engagement, attention and clarity. You can’t just ask a question and walk away for a couple days. According to Levy, “The bigger the Wave gets, the slower it gets.” Managing activity and open items becomes essential for productivity.