Business Insights Newsletter Article | January 2013
Socializing at Work – More Productive than You Think!
In a recent “Dilbert” cartoon, a senior executive complains to the CEO that millennials keep quitting because of the company’s bureaucracy and poor communication. Yes, it’s just a comic strip, but “Dilbert” frequently rings true as it skewers the problems of corporate life. And it hits the nail on the head this time: as today’s companies are discovering, millennials – who’ve come of age in the always connected world of Facebook, Twitter, texting, and IM – expect to find the same kinds of open, informal, non-hierarchical communication systems in the workplace. And if they aren’t there, employees will often create them on their own, contorting social networks designed for personal relationships into a medium for work-based groups.
In response, some companies have come down hard on the use of social networks in the office, viewing them as time-wasters on the same order as watching funny cat videos online. But they’re missing the point: social networks have always been part of the workplace. Long before the rise of hashtags and activity feeds, employees shared information at the water cooler or in the break room. These face-to-face social “forums” were vital conduits for work-related information, just as today’s digital networks are. And with the right tools, social networking in the workplace can become an incredibly powerful driver of productivity, collaboration, and employee morale.
In fact, a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that very few companies are realizing the full value of social platforms. While acknowledging that a large number of companies are now using social media to reach customers (think “Like us on Facebook” and “Follow us on Twitter”), relatively few are employing social tools to enhance communications, boost knowledge-sharing, and promote collaboration within the company. McKinsey estimates that full implementation of social techniques could raise knowledge-worker productivity by as much as 25 percent.
How does social deliver on this promise? By facilitating cross-company interactions that would have been impossible through the siloed communications of e-mails and IM. For example, a group of retail workers use their company’s social platform to share information about an ongoing project. Their post gets “crowdsourced” to the top of the newsfeed, where the CEO sees it and, impressed with its creativity, announces that it should be adopted as a best practice across the company. The entire company profits from the ingenuity of the original retail workers, who get unexpected and much-valued validation from the CEO, who has previously unheard of perspective into the front lines of the organization. It’s a win-win-win.
Sounds too good to be true? Then consider what social tools have done for LexisNexis. A major division of this worldwide provider of solutions for attorneys turned to a social platform to improve its internal corporate communications, looking, in the words of Christian Fleck, the division’s managing director “to build dialogue-based communications across the business.” Amplifying on this point, Fleck says, “Rather
than having executives just talk at people, we wanted to set up a back-and-forth with each side educating the other.”
To achieve this, they promoted a division-wide initiative to encourage employee use of Yammer, one of a complimentary set of social enterprise tools available from Microsoft. Today, more than 1,000 of the division’s 1,200 employees have Yammer accounts, which they’ve eagerly embraced as the way to share information about business topics, from corporate strategy to job postings. Employees enjoy the non-hierarchical nature of this social enterprise network, which lets them dialogue with both managers and peers, sharing best practices and even holding live Q&A sessions with visiting honchos.
And Yammer has impacted how the company works on projects, too, by identifying employees who are unexpectedly passionate about a certain aspects of the business – like HR staffers who’ve joined product development project teams. This serendipitous discovery of hidden interests has added a cross-functional dimension and a diversity of viewpoints to projects. What’s more, these cross-discipline teams can effectively collaborate in public and private Yammer Groups, even if the individual team members are in far-flung locations.
And when it comes to engagement, enterprise social networks like Yammer outshine even the most welcoming break room. Just look at the response that the launch of Yammer got at Chicago-based creative agency GA Communication Group. Within just four business days, 78% of employees had signed up and exchanged more than 400 messages across the network. And more important than quantity was the quality of the messages. Employees posted information on what’s going on in the office, reached out to others to get stuff done (offering suggestions, posing questions, and leveraging crowdsourcing), and highlighted cool things that GA’s clients are doing. These productivity-enhancing exchanges underscore the main reason why GA launched the social enterprise network: to ensure that the main offices in Chicago and San Diego, and every remote and traveling employee in between, can keep in touch, communicate, and collaborate effectively.
Other companies have adopted different social enterprise platforms with equally impressive results. For instance, cosmetics giant Revlon has combined the capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and Lync 2010 to create a productivity-boosting social platform. Revlon’s new-product development team leverages the collaboration features in SharePoint and the video conferencing in Lync to pull together global employees and thereby shorten product development time, which has resulted in a nearly 300 percent increase in product output over a two-year period.
The power of SharePoint Server as a social networking platform derives in large part from its ability to maintain user profiles and to understand the organizational hierarchy among the profiles. Employees create their own profiles, complete with their personal expertise and team information. These personal profiles can then be combined with company directories to build a company-wide, searchable database of subject matter experts and specialized teams. Combine this with the presence information in Lync, which lets you know who’s available, and you have a powerful tool for finding and connecting with just the right people to get your job done. You can search directly from Microsoft Office applications, like
Word or Excel, so you can find help just when you need it. What’s more, social networking is a great way to interact with people who you don’t know very well (or at all), unlike email or phone calls.
An often-overlooked plus of a corporate social network is its ability to create a collective company memory, a real plus for firms that are facing a rash of baby-boomer retirements. Imagine all that collective company expertise walking out the door. With a social network, the cumulative wisdom of the soon-to-be-retired “the flower-child generation” can be archived in a searchable platform. Try doing that with email, phone calls, or IMs. This archival wisdom can speed the ramp-up of new hires and enhance the productivity of even seasoned veterans.
SharePoint and Yammer are complimentary tools that enable a long-term enterprise social vision of experiences. These are tools that end users love – highly visual and easy-to-use products that employees want to download to their devices – and that provide the enterprise-ready platform IT needs to help secure corporate data and serve as an all-inclusive data-hub that powers business intelligence. And if you chose to run your company’s social platform in the cloud – an especially attractive option for midsized and smaller firms – many reputable cloud services provide high levels of security and reliability.
Whether on-premise or in the cloud, a company social platform can be good business. And, hey, who wants to be identified with the out-of-touch management in a comic strip?
Learn more about Microsoft social enterprise solutions here.