SAS Daniels is a Cheshire-based law firm with six offices in five towns around the county. Formed by the June 2006 merger of SAS Lawyers and Daniels Solicitors, the 160-strong organisation is a full-service firm with expertise in employment, dispute resolution, commercial property, construction and corporate finance, and all areas of family law, personal injury, property and probate, and wills and trusts.
Until recently, solicitors at SAS Daniels were drowning in a sea of e-mails. In fact, e-mail was the primary medium used to broadcast most pieces of company news to the firm’s highly dispersed workforce: details of upcoming staff barbecues information about new internal policies updates and opinions on high-profile legal cases such as the Mills-McCartney divorce.
The value of such information is indisputable – after all, a law firm lives or dies by the ability of its team to share information, knowledge and expertise, says HR manager Jill Moss.
But as people become more accustomed to using social networking technologies – such as Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia – to share information in their private lives, the limitations of e-mail as a publishing medium are becoming increasingly apparent, causing them frustration in their working lives.
“E-mails can be intrusive and create a regular, unwelcome distraction from tasks at hand. And when hundreds of e-mails are flying around an organisation every day, important information can get overlooked or lost in the shuffle,” says Moss.
SAS Daniels also faced a number of other internal communications challenges. Most HR processes were still reliant on staff filling in a myriad of paper-based forms, there was no easy ‘point of ready reference’ for staff to access information about company policies and procedures, and staff found it difficult to identify expertise elsewhere in the organisation and collaborate more closely with colleagues in other offices.
What SAS Daniels needed, managers decided, was a hefty dose of Web 2.0 technology – and one name was mentioned again and again when they consulted with staff about their experiences of social networking: Wikipedia.
The online encyclopedia was a great example, said staff, of how user-generated content could be marshalled into an easy-to-navigate knowledge repository that is built up over time through community effort.
By adapting the Wikipedia format, says Moss, “we felt we could create a site for staff that would get a wide range of information to them in such a way that they could alter or add to as appropriate.”
Working with Manchester-based web design company Kudos Design, the steering team at SAS Daniels (which was made up of representatives from HR, IT, marketing, business development and managing partners) found that the same software package that underpins Wikipedia, Mediawiki, is free to download from the internet – an example of ‘open source’ software.
Over a period of four months, the steering group worked with Kudos Design to identify the kinds of content the wiki needed to support, define different sections, and customise the Mediawiki software to reflect SAS Daniels’ corporate branding.
The wiki went live at the start of 2008 and is now the homepage that every employee sees when they open their web browser each morning. In consultation with staff, it was named ‘iRoom’.
By clicking on the ‘News’ section of iRoom, staff can access up-to-date information, such as headlines and alerts, that were previously distributed via e-mail. More importantly, users can update the list with their own news.
Other sections are proving just as valuable. The ‘How to’ section is the place to go to get advice on accessing voice-mail when out of the office or on downloading the form needed to request training, for example. The ‘Knowledge’ section is where details of new rulings and legal precedents are published and supports discussion and comments from around SAS Daniels.
The ‘People’ section works as a company-wide Facebook, where each member of staff keeps a personal profile that their colleagues can read to find out more about their professional and personal lives. Corporate and social calendars, meanwhile, ensure that everyone has access to information about upcoming events, meetings and deadlines.
Moss readily admits that the SAS Daniels wiki is a work in progress. The company deliberately didn’t opt for a ‘big bang’ roll-out that it felt might overwhelm prospective users, she says. Instead, it is concentrating on encouraging employees to use the wiki daily and keeping tabs on which sections and functions prove most valuable.
But HR is already feeling the benefits, she adds. “We’ve seen a big decrease in the number of calls we get each day. Enquiries about HR policy and administrative tasks such how to access online legal information resources have all but dried up since the relevant information has been posted on the wiki,” she says. “And no-one can say they don’t know when appraisal forms are due, because it’s up there on the corporate calendar.”
Every day, Moss finds new uses for iRoom. “Every time we introduce a new policy or create a new online form for e-HR, it goes straight up on the wiki, so the staff are finding it more valuable every time they visit.”
A new addition to SAS Daniels’ induction procedure involves training new members of staff to post their personal profile on the ‘People’ section of the site and search it for the personal profiles of the staff they will be working with.
“Being able to put faces and names to new colleagues makes a big difference in helping recruits to settle,” says Moss.
If I could do it again
Right now, iRoom still has much to prove – but HR manager Jill Moss says the first steps along the Web 2.0 path have given SAS Daniels some valuable insights and ideas into how user-generated content will transform the way that its staff can communicate and collaborate more effectively in future.
“It was time to move away from e-mail as our primary means of knowledge sharing. It was starting to slow us down and, although the learning curve has been quite steep, I can see masses of potential in iRoom – it’s all about promoting the openness and transparency that are essential to HR,” she says. “Without iRoom, we would have struggled to make that a reality.”
Guide to creating a wiki at work in 10 steps
1 Involve employees at the development stage and get their buy-in for the new wiki.
2 Encourage employees to use the wiki to share social as well as corporate information during the working day. Often the social use can drive the corporate use.
3 Make sure your wiki can be expanded and added to over time – it should scale up and evolve with your business.
4 Encourage your employees to create their own profiles for the wiki – containing both professional and light-hearted personal information. Maintain an element of fun.
5 Content for the wiki should embrace and reflect the culture of your organisation and be represented by the ‘tone’ used in the subject matter.
6 Draw your employees into using the wiki by posting daily information that’s unique.
7 Posting company memos onto the wiki will also encourage employees to log into it daily and drive use.
8 Keep training to a minimum to encourage innovation and self-development.
9 Promote the integration of different offices over multiple sites – both professionally and socially.
10 Create a culture of knowledge exchange.
Source: SAS Daniels