The CEO of a company full of mobile workers explains why he relies on wikis to keep information flowing.

Mobile work may exponentially increase the pool of talent you can hire from. It may cut your real estate bill (and your carbon footprint) and allow your team better work-life balance. But let’s be honest, it also has its downsides.

Accessing information, especially informal wisdom about clients, processes and tools, is more challenging when you’re not able to meander across the office to tap people on the shoulder and find out that essential bit of information you need to get your work done well. But it’s a problem with a simple solution, according to Jim Secord, CEO of accounting software company Kashoo.

Wikis to the Rescue

“We have an office that we meet at once a week but other than that everyone works from home, so we’re probably the poster company for virtual workspaces,” he says, before acknowledging that this set up creates a few issues. “Access to information is one of the biggest challenges because even though you’ve got tools like Skype, it’s not as easy to walk over to someone’s cubicle and ask how you check out source code or the process for doing a build or something along those lines,” he says.

What solution does he recommend? Forget complicated and expensive tools. A team wiki will do the trick. “We’ve been using wikis ever since we were founded. We use them for anything from new employee or contractor onboarding to release processes through to general communication around different projects,” he says.

“They’re lightweight – it doesn’t require a big investment to learn how to use them. We keep them open, so everyone contributes. So for example, if someone new joins the company and there’s a process or a step that’s missed or is confusing, we’ll just have them write it or update it so it would be clearer for the next person coming in,” he adds.

A Few Words of Caution

Wikis may be straightforward and effective solution to mobile information sharing, according to Secord, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a team to make a mess of using them.

“One of the challenges of a virtual company is you can get tool fatigue,” Secord says. “We’ve gone through periods where we’re trying to use the latest wiki, source control software – there are dozens of tools for everything — so we try to limit the scope.” To avoid overburdening your team with too many tools, Secord suggests sounding them out for their opinions and making sure the tools are as integrated and easy to use as they can be.

“Send out a shout out to say, has anyone used a good wiki? What do you like? People will respond to that and incorporate it, because people have to buy into it,” Secord says, while also suggesting that teams choose a platform “that is integrated with the tools you use. It has to be something people don’t have to think about being able to access. We try to keep stuff within the Google environment because that’s what we use right now,” he adds, explaining that the team currently uses Google Sites for its wikis, but has also experimented with Yammer.

Jump in, the Water Is Fine

Finally, Secord urges those thinking of adopting wikis to relax about getting everything right straight out of the gate. “They’re living documents,” Secord says, so “it’s easy to jump in and get started. You don’t have to give a whole lot of thought to planning and structuring, which is the beauty of them.  Often when you say, ‘we’re going to do, say, a new employee orientation manual,’ it requires an awful lot of heavy lifting at the front. The great thing about wikis is it’s really easy to just get started, so it reduces that barrier.”

Photo credit: 3oheme