Adding Interactional Types to Structure Conversations

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Developing a digital workplace – a digital place of work – requires a bit of upfront thinking about how to support the likely behaviours and conversational/interactional dynamics between people. We aim to give as much capability as necessary, without creating cognitive overload by intertwining current work with unrelated noise. At a structural level, for example, we differentiate between focus areas using membership-based groups – a Microsoft Teams workspace for Project Alpha, a different one for Project Beta, and a third for Project Gamma. People are invited to participate and work within each workspace as required. And obviously, Microsoft Teams is just an example here; we could equally be talking about Yammer Groups, SharePoint sites, or even a more general Office 365 Groups construct. Dividing work across the different workspaces supports focus when needed, with some degree of meta-narrative about all the current work an individual has on their plate across all current and active workspaces.

But the division of work into separate workspaces is only one of the design constructs necessary for optimally structuring interactional dynamics. Each team or group also have in-team and in-group interactional types, which their tool of choice should support. Differential types have been in Outlook for a long time – for example, an email message, an appointment, a meeting, a group and a task. These top-level types force each user to pre-select the specific type they want to create and share. With the adoption of new team- and group-based workspaces, in-space types force the same pre-selection. In Yammer, it’s conversations and files. In Microsoft Teams, it’s channels and different types of tabs. Before posting or sharing anything, each user needs to ensure they select the right workspace and the right channel, and then within the channel – depending on what tool tabs have been added (or that you can add, assuming group owner rights) – post and share away. A conversation here, a file shared there, and a page of meeting notes there. Yet even those types are often lacking in sufficient granularity, and hence Microsoft is adding differential conversation types into both Yammer and Microsoft Teams.

The new option in Yammer is the ability to create a conversation type of “question,” an addition to the existing options of creating an update, sharing a poll, or giving praise.

The question type has affordances not available in a standard update post, with the ability to mark an answer as the “best answer” key among the differences. Microsoft’s intent is to streamline the discovery of the “best” answer to a question the next time the question is read by someone. Explicitly signalling that one answer is better than all the others gives subsequent readers higher confidence that they can stop their knowledge search unless of course, the best answer has been superseded by later developments. While that often won’t be signalled in the “best answer” statement, at least the new reader can ask if the answer is still the best one.

Microsoft is also creating a new interactional type in Microsoft Teams, with the announcement the new kid on the block.

Since an announcement can have a background image in addition to a header, the intent is to create a visual distinction for fast identification of notification of news versus invitation for conversation and interaction. Team members scanning the conversation tab in a channel will be able to quickly identify the news-centric updates, and either filter them out of current focus when it’s time to dive into the work or give specific focus when wanting to catch up with what’s going on.

While it’s good to see Microsoft adding new sensible interactional types to its tools like Yammer and Microsoft Teams, the first challenge is to carefully balance adding too much with not adding enough, and the second is to maintain sufficient differentiation between the different tools so the right type of workspace for a team or group can be selected up front. When all tools offer all capabilities, it’s time for a tool cull.

Yammer, Teams… the collaboration possibilities in Office 365 are endless! But have you thought about how to get your Return on Investment for your Office 365 Investment? Download our eBook User adoption for Office 365: How to Lock-in a Return-on-Investment.