How to Cure Your Office Potluck Woes

It’s that time of year again! And just like I’m sure many of you are experiencing, this is usually the week of the holiday potluck lunch at the office. It’s days like this that I remember what it was like to work without access to collaboration tools (although I try to not think about it). Where tedious tasks like organizing and participating in a collective celebration becomes just the thing that ruins your week. Mainly, I empathize with the person who organizes the whole deal.  You probably know the drill.  They send out an email to the team on Monday: “Let’s celebrate together! Potluck Friday. Email me what you’ll bring.”  Simple, yes.  But over the next few hours, you endure an endless number of pings signaling a new reply.   It’s fifteen “reply alls” and “Re:Re:Re:” responses.  You’d like to bring a salad but what kind?  Should you do a green salad or a pasta a salad? Stumped for ideas, you notice your crafty friend check out a Pinterest board, “What I’ll be taking to the office potluck lunch.”  Seriously, it’s a thing.

cake walkIt’s so hard to know what to bring with the chaos of everyone replying at once.  To get a handle on the situation, you read every email and note that it seems they are missing sandwich buns.  You start your reply when, ping, someone else mentions they’ll take care of buns for the roast beef. Aack!  Unfortunately, you also read your boss is bringing her chile cheese casserole, again.

We’ve all been in this annoying situation before, right? But just imagine how it feels to be the party organizer. Between reserving a room, picking up holiday decor, and buying Secret Santa gifts, he’s fielding 15 emails a day to ensure 3 people don’t show up with spinach dip.  And it’s not as if they don’t have better things to do!  They should be finishing slides for the team meeting, helping coordinate a last minute trip to visit a client, and hiring a consultant to work on a new logo. Instead, they’re doing a job that, frankly, is no longer necessary.

Whether you set up a table in Jive (optimal) or just post an announcement about the event, a collaborative tool changes the paradigm. People still sign up for the dish they want to bring and add to the list to account for dietary issues.  Everyone notes their contribution at a central location. As employees sign up, the list is constantly updated.  Late responders don’t cause the whole process to break down; they simply get stuck bringing the roast beef that no one else wanted to prepare.  You can even add notes to the list and save it for next year so that no one wastes time preparing potatoes that are never consumed.

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In fact, in Jive’s Portland office, we organized a holiday bake sale to raise money for a local food bank. Instead of emailing the whole office to find bakers, coordinate the date, set the location for delivery and sales, collect money, and communicate with bakers and so forth, we ran the whole thing off Brewspace, our Jive internal instance. Marya DeVoto simply created a Jive document, @mentioned the Portland office, and the bake sale was on.  Anyone who worked in the Portland office could access and edit it.  They could see what had already been contributed and add in their favorite treat.  We ended up with a mix of cakes, pumpkin and banana breads, cupcakes and a variety–not 8 dozen–chocolate chip cookies.   We even made it a contest and created a poll where people could vote for their favorite.

The office potluck, the holiday bake sale…neither needs to be frustrating.  Use a collaboration tool and watch the project take care of itself.  And if organizing a holiday event is this easy, just imagine how easy it could make real work. I know that I could never go back solely working in email, and I don’t even remember how I ever did in the first place. Jive has literally changed the way I work, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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