Building the social network at work

Installing software is one thing — getting employees to use it is another
By Melissa Campeau
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/10/2016

In mid-October, social networking giant Facebook launched Workplace, its new at-work platform. The technology joins a long list of rivals including Slack, Yammer, Chatter, Hipchat and Jive, plus messaging apps for mobile workers such as Beekeeper and Zinc.

“Increasing digitization and globalization of work is transforming how, when and where we collaborate across teams and with our clients,” says Karen Pelletier, Accenture’s Canadian business operations and workplace solutions lead in Ottawa.

“Digital tools will enable work to happen anywhere,” she says, and help to “spark collaboration between clients and teams.”

Canadian employees have cetainly embraced social media outside of the workplace — 59 per cent of Canadians use Facebook, according to 2015 Forum Research.

Given that level of comfort with personal social platforms, it’s not surprising organizations have been installing social enterprise networks at a quickening pace since 2011, looking for ways to enhance engagement, collaboration and productivity, according to a 2015 report by Deloitte.

Installing software that enables collaboration is one thing; encouraging employees to use it is another.

Many of the companies choosing to roll out social enterprise networks were also struggling to recruit users and advocates, according to the Deloitte report.

Another 2015 study, this one by Altimeter Group, found less than half of the enterprise collaboration tools organizations put in place have many employees using them regularly.

Suited to some businesses more than others?

“Where we have seen demand for corporate social platforms is with companies that have more project management requirements,” says Cissy Pau, senior consultant at Clear HR Consulting in Vancouver. “Say they’re a tech company that’s creating a new marketing system for their clients, then we have seen them using some sort of collaboration tool.”

“If you’ve got a large workforce that’s dispersed and everyone’s working on the same project or different aspects of the same project, I’d say a corporate social network absolutely makes sense.”

The larger and more spread out an organization is, the more it’s going to benefit from the ability to connect virtual teams digitally with technologies, says Pelletier. But social networking tools don’t have to be the exclusive domain of this type and size of organization.

“Collaboration tools have the potential to benefit smaller, more localized workplaces, if used effectively,” she says.

“We know that when employees come into the office, it’s now more focused on the human and emotional connection between clients and coworkers. When we wrap the physical work environment around technology, it drives innovative new ways to engage everyone in a physical and virtual experience.”

Plenty of organizations, though, aren’t convinced of the value, just yet. Only a small handful of Pau’s clients are on board, she says.

“There are maybe three or four, among all our clients, who use some sort of collaboration tool.”

If enterprise social networks aren’t ubiquitous in the workplace, the sheer number of platforms and installations an organization has to consider — for nearly every element of a business — might be partly to blame, says Pau.

“An organization is going to choose the system that adds the most value, and maybe that’s in manufacturing or logistics or on the accounting side,” she says.

“How high do HR platforms rank in the mix? They’re probably not as high as those traditionally considered to have a bigger impact on business. You have to make sure operations are working, and also consider that maybe we should just walk to the office next door and have a conversation… There could be other ways to achieve the same goal.”

What’s getting in the way?

Where organizations have opted to install an enterprise social network, but aren’t seeing high levels of engagement, it might be because company leaders aren’t using it, according to Altimeter’s 2015 study. When top executives don’t see collaboration and engagement as a good use of their time, employees quickly learn they shouldn’t either.

There’s also a chance organizations haven’t chosen a platform that suits employees’ needs or corporate culture. Three-quarters (77 per cent) of employees said their IT department didn’t consult them before rolling out a new collaboration tool, while another 58 per cent said they didn’t get asked for feedback after a tool was implemented, according to a 2014 poll by Softchoice.

Alternatively, employees might not grasp how to make the most of the tech installed on their laptops and devices. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents said they never use some of their company communications tools, found the survey.

Digging a little deeper, one-third of employees didn’t receive any training on using a new collaboration tool, and of those that did, about half said they got less than half an hour of training time.

Considering the macro view

Deciding whether or not to bring a collaboration tool into the workplace is a decision to be made within a broader context, says Pau.

“Does the tool fit the bigger picture?” she says.

“You need to figure out why it’s important for the business and what you’re trying to achieve with it. What’s your overall goal and why does it fit into the overall strategy and vision? If employees don’t see the value of it, why would they use it?”

The other thing to consider is the collaboration tool is not going to fix a broken process, says Pau.

“It’s not going to work unless collaboration is already embedded into the culture of the business. The tool is only going to work if you honestly believe in collaboration and the leaders are demonstrating those behaviours all the time and they’re really, truly valued in the company,” she says.

“If the company doesn’t believe it, the tool’s not going to fix it.”

If an organization does choose to install an enterprise social network, weaving it strategically into everyday practices, rather than layering it on as separate communications tool, is recommended, says Pelletier.

“The key is to move beyond standalone tools and embed social-driven collaboration directly into core business processes.”

Continued shift

It’s projected the global market for enterprise social networking will reach $4.8 billion by 2020, according to a 2015 report by Global Industry Analysts, fuelled in part by an effort to keep an increasingly mobile workforce virtually linked.

“This is the trend,” says Pelletier. “It’s all about connectedness. The more we collaborate, the more powerful our performance is bound to be. Social collaboration tools are going to work differently in each organization but, overall, a powerful new network is emerging around us. Over time, we’ll experiment with different forums to bring in the new.”

Melissa Campeau is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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