5 things that COVID-19 remote work programs can learn from Yammer

Will Kelly
4 min readMar 8, 2022
Photo by Nathan Riley on Unsplash

Before Slack. Before Teams. Came Yammer. Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012 when it still carried the moniker of a social networking company. As a technology and corporate culture, Yammer is forgotten by a whole generation of the IT industry, but the cultural principles are very applicable today.

Here are five things today’s corporate remote work programs can learn from Yammer’s story:

1. Corporate cultures need agility to prosper

I’ve worked in a wide range of corporate cultures during my time as a technical writer, contractor, and marketer. Agility is something that needs more than lip service. The acquisition of Yammer by Microsoft gave an injection of agility into the company when it was much needed. The Yammer acquisition, in some ways, helped rewrite a different future for Microsoft cloud products and development culture that they still have in place today.

A second coming for agility was upon the average enterprise during the pandemic. Agility is often elusive in mid to large-sized enterprises, even pre-pandemic. Micromanagement, back-to-back meetings, management overhead, battles for relevance can creep into a corporate culture like a virulent form of Kudzu.

An agile culture during the pandemic gives organizations the tools and space to bob, weave, and pivot to meet work challenges. Cubicle-bound management, communications, and collaboration styles had to change for enterprises to continue to prosper during the pandemic and set themselves up for the new world of post-pandemic work.

2. Open communications amongst levels are a necessity

In its time, Yammer was seen as a tool to promote open communications among levels in an organization. There’s no greater time than now to encourage open communications for teams. Silos stymy progress even more in times of pandemic.

Command and control corporate cultures in the current state of pandemic remote work risk irrelevance and become a footnote in their industry’s history. Insecure managers can use remote work across time zones to withhold project information to defend their fragile egos.

As a remote work culture foundation during and after the pandemic, open communications are a sure sign of cultural maturity. A downside of remote work is that it makes it easier to hide. Back in the pre-pandemic office days, when somebody ignored your email or Slack message, you could always stalk them outside meeting rooms or pounce on them in their cubicles. These

3. Degrees of freedom prompt change

A principle of Yammer culture even before the Microsoft acquisition was that degrees of freedom prompt change. I’m sure this must have been a bit of culture shock to Microsoft of the mid-2010s, plus this is such a pertinent cultural principle for organizations to seek out and make a reality in the remote world of work we now find ourselves in.

Pandemic remote work can be won or lost by degrees of freedom. Change has been a necessity since March 2020 as workflows and product development practices had to change. Enterprises apprehensive about changing would find themselves mired in remote work debt and a myriad of related challenges that would slow them down even further than corporate dysfunction all under one roof in a corporate HQ.

4. Community is important

Yammer culture was about community. It’s something that Microsoft business units put into practice over the years based on what I’ve read in the trade press and picked up when I used to cover enterprise collaboration as a freelance writer.

During the pandemic, the community among remote workers is a step toward corporate culture transformation that’ll separate the winners and losers in the new world of work. I’ve seen many corporate attempts at creating community during the pre-pandemic era that lacked authenticity because the corporate back office was driving the effort.

In the current remote work world, authentic attempts at a community need to start grassroots. The people doing the work require the tools and support to open the community internally. It’s more than just Zoom, Slack, or Teams. Community comes when workers get the freedom to exchange ideas and help each other without interfering with their natural flow. Forcing a community flow only brings more silos or communications backchannels

5. Don’t discount internal influencers

Another bygone principle of Yammer culture is the importance of the internal influencer to corporations:

“In our world today, there are many online influencers who share what they do, eat, and buy. And for some it has changed the way people dine, shop, and travel — there’s something to learn from them within our own organizations.”

While I don’t want to go all change management with this post, I agree with this point mainly because it’s very applicable right now. Not everybody is fortunate enough to have a knowledgeable manager who can develop their team and answer questions beyond the process to put in a PTO request. Authentic leadership was in short supply, even pre-pandemic.

Team members willing to share their knowledge and support their teammates during the pandemic are in higher demand right now than they ever have been. When these people are active on your organization’s group chat platform, it contributes to the power of community and the remote culture you want to build for your employees.

Final thoughts

While in 2022, Yammer doesn’t sit as a crown jewel in Microsoft 365 as it should, the impact of Yammer on Microsoft’s culture appears life and well inside Microsoft. So many lessons that the Yammer sought to espouse are applicable ten years later, especially during the current pandemic and organizations moving to work from home, work from anywhere, or hybrid models.

Will Kelly is a product marketer and writer focused on DevOps and the cloud. His technology interests include enterprise mobility, collaboration tools, and remote work. He has written for TechTarget, Opensource.com, InfoQ, and others. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.

Originally published at http://willkelly.blog on March 8, 2022.