It’s becoming common practice among small businesses to have employees spread out all over the country and even all over the globe.  How do you establish a company culture when employees are not working together in the same office everyday?  Thanks to social networking, connecting with offsite employees is easier than ever.  There are now social networking tools created specifically for enterprises, and one of them is Yammer.

Yammer is a “social collaboration [tool that helps] teams connect and complete the projects they are working on faster because they can find information, answer questions, poll colleagues and share ideas in real-time,” describes Adam Pisoni, CTO of Yammer.  Yammer has a user interface that is quite similar to Facebook, which makes the learning curve very small.  Yammer has a downloadable desktop app as well as a mobile app, which also have very clean user interfaces and are easy to use.

At Journyx, we’ve been experimenting with Yammer and there have been mixed opinions.  The onsite employees would rather just talk to each other face-to-face but the offsite employees are feeling more connected.  For example, an onsite employee is currently planning the annual company holiday party and she is using Yammer to ask everyone what their preferences are for the party.  Offsite employees have been able to offer suggestions, such as having karaoke and requesting preferred party times.  This makes the entire company feel connected: the party planner is able to gather input from everyone in the company, regardless of their location, and all employees can offer their input in a helpful way.

One offsite employee said that Yammer felt like a giant instant message group since many employees are on Yammer, but Yammer is beyond an IM group.  We can share content as well as send both private and public messages.

Bruce McGraw of Cognitive Technologies, a SharePoint consultancy, points out that SharePoint already does all of the things that Yammer does, out of the box. But very few companies realize this so it’s doubtful that SharePoint is being used in this way in many cases. 

One word of caution about Yammer: it becomes rooted in your company with no knowledge or assistance from your IT team or executive staff -- after all, it's free. But before you know it, Yammer might become an integral part of your operations, containing important and sensitive data about your firm. If someone spouts off and says something inappropriate and you need to obtain the administrative rights to the system, then you have to pay. The cost is only $5 per user, per month, so it’s not much but it could add up if you have 5,000 employees. Of course, you can always firewall off the site but not from remote employees. 

It's just another example of how tools are entering your workplace whether you want them to or not. This is an issue that all companies will deal with and you need to plan appropriately.

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx, a time and resource management web-based software.