The “Narrating Your Work” Experiment

I have just finished writing a small proposal to the rest of my team. I thought it would be interesting to share here:


We work in a virtual team. Even though there aren’t many of us, we often have few ideas about what the other people in our team are working on, which people they have met recently and what they are struggling with. The time difference between our main offices make our occasional feelings of being disconnected worse.

This “Narrating Your Work” experiment is an attempt to help overcome these problems.

If you are interested in some background reading, you should probably start with Luis Suarez’ blog post about narrating your work (”it’s all about the easiest way of keeping up with, and nurturing, your working relationships by constantly improving your social capital skills”) and then follow his links to Dave Winer, ambient intimacy and declarative living.

The experiment

“Narrating Your Work” should really be approached as an experiment. When it was first suggested, some people showed some hesitation or worries. We just don’t know whether and how it will work yet. The best way to find out is by trying. In Dutch: “niet geschoten, altijd mis”.

The experiment will have a clear-cut start and will last for two months. After running the experiment we will do a small survey to see what people thought of it: Did it deliver any benefits? If any to whom? Was it a lot of work to write updates? Did it create too much reading to do? Do we want to continue with narrating our work? Etc.

Three ways of participating

It needs to be clear who is participating in the experiment. If you decide to join, you commit to doing one of the following three things (you are allowed to switch between them and you will be “policed”):

  1. Constant flow of updates: Every time you meet somebody who is not in the team, every time you create a new document or every time you do something that is different from just answering your emails, you will write a very short status update to say what you are doing or what you have done. This will create a true “activity stream” around the things you do at work.
  2. Daily updates: At the end of your day you give a one paragraph recap of what you have done, again focusing on the people you have met, the places you have visited or the things you have created.
  3. Weekly updates: On Friday afternoon or on Monday morning you write an update about the week that has just passed. To give this update some structure, it is suggested that you write about two things that went very well, two things that went less well and two things that are worrying to you (or at least will require attention in the next week).

The first option requires the most guts, whereas the last option requires the most diligence: it is not easy to take the time every week to look back at what happened over the last five working days. Are you the type of person who likes to clean the dishes as the day progresses, or are you the type who likes to leave them till there is nothing clean left? Choosing one of the first two options (rather than the third) will give the experiment the greatest chance of success.

Participation only requires the commitment for writing the updates. You are not expected to read all updates of the others, although you might very well be tempted!

How to do it: making it work

To make the work updates easily accessible we will use Yammer. You can do this in two ways:

  • You can post the work update with the tag #nywlob to your followers. People will see this message when they are following you, when they are watching the company feed or when they follow the nywlob topic.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable posting publicly to the whole company (or want to say something that needs to stay in the team) then you can post in an unlisted and private group. People will only see this message if they are members of the group and we will only let people in who work in the HRIT LoB and have agreed to join the experiment. Posting in this group will limit your chances of serendipity, so the first method is preferred.

When you are posting an update, please think about the people who might be reading it, so:

  • When you refer to a person that is already on Yammer, use the @mention technique to turn their name into a link (and notify them of you mentioning them)
  • If you refer to a person outside of Shell, link to their public LinkedIn profile.
  • If you mention any document or web page, make sure to add the link to the document so that people can take a look at it.

I am very interested in any comments you might have. Does anybody have any experience with this?

21 thoughts on “The “Narrating Your Work” Experiment

  1. Hi Hans,

    Interesting experiment, I’m curious about the results. I wonder if the effort you will have to make is compensated by the result. I don’t have hands on experience, just a bit with our development team in the Ukraine. We use Yammer and communicator. The use of Yammer hasn’t brought what I hoped. I hope you will post your sults in two months time.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Indeed, I am also curious to see how it turns out. I don’t think I would have tried it with programmers. Their code (and if you use a modern programming methodology also their programs) speak for themselves: no need to narrate. If you have internal or external customers that your consulting with and you have a very virtual team it will be a different story. I will see if I can try and post some results if we will indeed do the experiment.

  2. I have many questions about your experiment. As I was formulating my questions, I realized that the best way to answer the question was to run an experiment – which is exactly what you are doing. At the end I would ask that you share what you found. Hopefully you will be able to share some results about these topics below:
    1) How honest will people be? Thought Experiment: I spent all day today writing a report. I didn’t finish the report. So my update is “wrote report for 9 hours”. Whereas someone else might have update: I talked with 10 people and here is what they said (2 pages of notes). Who did more work? The person with the 1 sentence update or the person with 2 pages of notes? (both could have done the same amount of work – but one will “look” busier – therefore more productive).
    2) People may have an incentive to look more important – and will spend more time on the updates – than doing work. But, really, that same risk exists today without Yammer or technology.
    3) Who outside of your organization will validate your results?
    I do not know you or your organization and it’s inner workings so I am just asking. I have worked internationally as a consultant and Project Manager with many different organizations, cultures and governments. I don’t know your organization in Shell – but I do know many different organizations – and these are the questions I would ask of any organization. Please keep us up to date.

  3. I love it! Can’t wait to find out how it works out. Any chance you’d be interested in writing a up your experiences for the Wide Teams blog?

    1. Hello Avdi, I would be very willing to write something that can be published both on my blog and on the Wide Teams blog.

  4. hi Hans,
    I do write weekly updates to my supervisor since a few months, and not only helps him stay updated about my work, but I think it even helps me more REFLECT on what I did, and get a sense of the direction I want to go. I think reflection is one of the greater benefits of doing such an activity, and that is even more beneficial if people actually read it and respond to it (as I am doing now).

  5. Very interesting Hans. I think many orgs (mine included) dip their toe into internal social tools like yammer without a specific purpose in mind. This kind of focused and deliberate use I don’t think we hear much about. Look forward to hearing about your results.

  6. Hi Hans

    We did similar things in my previous team; we had a monthly summary of key projects that was shared with everyone. It was a bit time consuming, but it did serve the purpose in being updated about each other’s work, and we avoided overlaps. We also made an individual weekly summary to our boss, which gave her a good overview and I think it was a good process to get clarity on how much one actually produces in a week!

    Curious to hear how your project works out!

  7. Hi Hanz,

    Maria from Yammer here. I’m delighted that you are experimenting around new communication and collaboration paradigms, and I’m also thrilled that you are using Yammer to do it!

    Your desire to keep a globally distributed team connected resonates with what we are seeing across many of our users. I think giving people specific ways in which they can participate (DO this vs. DON’T do this) is the way to go. To elaborate on that, it’s also key to form alliances with power users and champions so they can lead by example. I think you are also right on the money with your usage of groups and topics, which will hopefully help you isolate signal from noise and make sure you aren’t creating too much reading, as you alluded to before. I commend you on setting up the rigor of asking the questions, such as “who benefits? how do I know it’s wortking?” etc.

    Is this something that you plan to work with other groups on, if the experiment is proved successful? I think one of the true beauties of documenting your work is to inform other parts of the organization. Cross-functional collaboration is very very powerful and can lend great results. One of our users shared this great TED video around the power of ideas that come from a “slow hunch”.

    Here are also some broad-based best practices I wrote up the other day:

    Please let us know how it goes! You can find us on Twitter as @yammer or find me as @themaria or email maria (at)


    Maria Ogneva
    Head of Community, Yammer

  8. Very interesting. A few years ago I had a mentor who wrote a ‘daily summary’ and had done so for 15 years. Now his concept is a small portion of yours – to capture his learnings and build up a reference for the future. For instance, if people came up to him asking a question he wasn’t sure about, he would refer to his decade+ old file and be able to provide help.

    On the back of this, I attempted to do the same, failed miserably and realised that I while I didn’t have the dedication to keep daily reports, I could do ad-hoc ones and so I have done that.

    The weekly updates I really like – a short After action review. I think it has the potential to crystallize learning and help people focus on areas for development.

    Enjoy it anyhow

    1. I really liked what you mentor did. I have toyed with the idea of doing something similar and using Twitter to do it. A simple hashtag like #dd and then the other 136 for the quintessential update of the day (they would then be available and searchable at I’ll see if I can manage!

    1. I really like the results so far… We haven’t finished yet, but I will make sure to do a little write-up here once it is over later this month.

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