Benefits of social media in the workplace: An employee perspective

Benefits of social media in the workplace

The current post, “Benefits of social media in the workplace – An employee perspective” is an updated and enhanced content version of the earlier post “Benefits of social media at workplace”. The article talks about the visible benefits of social media in the workplace from an authentic employee’s perspective.

The best practices and content is drawn and distilled from world class organizations and research publications (Including the Harvard Business review, HBR working knowledge and MIT Sloan management review) around the world.

In the recent times there has been a lot that has been written about social media collaboration, its usage and its associated technologies as one of the prime trend areas that will shape the future of work.

Understanding and exploring the benefits of social media in the workplace has enormous potential, not just for its designers and proponents but also for the employees who work in the organization.

There was a study that was conducted by an organization called Dynamic markets. It was found that nearly 74% of working population in Europe preferred social networking, social media sites and online communities to solve problems at workplaces. The two biggest benefits mentioned by employees were increase in knowledge for solving problems and secondly, cultivating a collaborative team spirit among employees on a daily basis.

Its impact as a “community building” and “social interaction” tool within the four walls, has social effects within the workplace. These two areas are the two most oft-repeated benefits that are linked to the usage of social media in the workplace. But then, their social effects go beyond these two into other real visible areas.

The positive effects of social media in the workplace is felt by Nerds, Geeks and managers (Who form the typical office crowd) alike within the organization. The term “Social media” is usually interspersed or used synonymously with the word “social media collaboration”, “Corporate social network”, “Enterprise social networking” and “Social collaboration” within an organizational context.

The senior management, would like to the see the word “Collaboration” attached to the word social media for obvious reasons. They understand “Collaboration” can bring in results, productivity and profits.  On the contrary, there is a perception that, employee’s time on community building and social interaction alone, may be unproductive and may not add value.

The below paragraph provides a quick summary of the benefits of social media in the workplace and then we will go into the greater details later in the post.

Please also read our article:Learning from HBR, Making corporate social network successful”.

Consumer social media has its influence on the benefits of social media in the workplace

True. We have already seen that happening. People across the world are more well versed (Particularly, the younger generation millennial) towards the usage, general acceptance and friendliness towards consumer web social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and others.  This has influenced the behavior at workplaces as well. People at workplace, are now more open to ideas, sharing information, being collaborative and creating communities.

Many Fortune 100 companies have opened the doors and have become trailblazers for the adoption of social media in the workplace beneficially within their organizations.

Some of this collaboration, has taken the garb of innovation hubs and idea banks while others have become knowledge sharing platforms.  They all share a common purpose aligned to business goals. With management commitment they are well shaping up to be the future of work. The business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace is obvious.

We are all aware of the recent news that Microsoft has acquired LinkedIn. LinkedIn, is again a social media network tool on the consumer web space for working professionals. The advantages might be many for Microsoft but then the importance of the benefits of social media in the workplace cannot be anymore understated.

Defining social media in the workplace

From a consumer point of view, there are many terms which are used interchangeably with social media, namely web 2.0, social technology, social media collaboration and so on. From a workplace perspective, it is all about ‘social collaboration’ and ‘enterprise social networking’ with specialist tools for chat sessions, community forums, collaboration platforms and tools for employee advocacy.

But at heart,

Social media is an attitude and an evolving culture. At a very basic level, it consists of a set of digital tools to connect, interact and collaborate.

Having said that, there are various tools used for realizing the benefits of social media in the workplace. Let’s have a cursory glance at some of them.

The common Social media tools used

Some of the commonly used social media tools  are :-

  1. Blog: It is a recorded journal of an individual. This journal can be made public for others to see and make comments.
  2. Social Networking Site: It is a website that allows people to interact with each other. Information can be shared and received. The site exists for forming beneficial relationships with others.
  3. Forums: It is a site where people can ask questions and get answers. People can in-turn reply on those answers in a threaded comments fashion.
  4. Wikipedia: It is a website which serves as a good repository of information on any topic. The information is filled in collaboratively by the general public. There are options to add, delete and edit content on the wiki site.
  5. Micro blog:  It is a form of blogging where the content consists of far less words and transmitted quickly. There is usually a notification which goes to all the participants. “Twitter” is a good example of this.
  6. Virtual worlds: A simulated artificial online environment where users take up avatars to participate independently or as groups to communicate and interact with others. There are many Massive multiplayer games of this genre and they usually depict huge ranging worlds of super heroes and science fiction. “Second life” is a good example of this.
  7. Podcasts: Consists of audio sessions that be heard online or shared among the participants.
  8. Web conferencing: Runs on many internet technologies. It allows people in remote locations to meet, interact and collaborate. Webcasts and webinars are some of the examples.

The prime benefits of social media in the workplace

Benefits of social media in the workplace
Employee bonding- One of the prime benefits

The benefits of social media in the workplace are many. Please find the prime visible benefits of social media in the workplace. These benefits have the maximum positive business impact. They are listed below.

  1. Knowledge creation and dissemination.
  2. Successive iteration of ideas for innovation.
  3. Creation of collaborative social capital.
  4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
  5. Providing most valuable “Context” to information.

Let’s look at  them one by one.

1.Knowledge creation and dissemination

The organization creates knowledge all the time. On one hand there is the highly subjective insights, which are valuable and are called the ‘Tacit’ knowledge. Tacit knowledge rests in the minds of the people. On the other hand, there is explicit knowledge, which is available in the organizational procedures and structured processes. Usage of social media captures these valuable tacit knowledge and helps in converting them into explicit knowledge. The context surrounding that information helps in this conversion.

Other forms of social media in the workplace also capture tacit knowledge. For example, formal collaboration platforms within workplaces encourage employees from different business units to share structured information with other employees as well.

Social media in the workplace encourages knowledge sharing

The presence of social media in the workplace, encourages employees to share knowledge. Social media facilitates the quick spreading of information where it is needed. Employees are generally not comfortable with the jargons of market share, ROI and productivity nor with the mission and values of the organization. They are not interested in hard numbers. They are more interested in getting the work done and to be in the good books of their managers.

Employees would like to have a collective sense of identity and a sense of belonging with a community. Such innate needs are fulfilled by employee engagement of social media. Knowledge creation and dissemination occurs naturally through the use of social media in workplaces.

From an employee perspective, through knowledge creation, sharing and dissemination, there is generation of new ideas.  And when we collaborate with our ideas with each other, there is insight and there by innovation.

For example: – Technical support centers across many organizations rely on collaborative wikis, to share knowledge on support resolutions and technical updates. This revised knowledge is frequently updated by the representatives who work on those service lines. The benefits of social media in the workplace is more visible,as there are efficiencies built in  turnaround time and the operations involved.

For further insights, please read our article:Expertise sharing in social networks”.

2.Successive iteration of ideas

For ideas to mature and there by lead to innovation, it has to go through many iterations. We may have a hunch. For the hunch to be developed into a workable idea, it needs others perspective on it as well. Social media as a tool within workplaces has provisions to encourage this desired behavior. Employee collaboration, being one of the prime benefits of social media in the workplace, facilitates successive iteration of ideas and thereby innovation.

There are many definitions of innovation.  The one that I feel right is:

When we reflect on our own experiences and knowledge with others, and their perspectives and existing knowledge, a new insight is born. And then after a series of such successive ideas and insight, innovation takes form by running through the process of design, development and results.

A manager might possess a path breaking idea about a new technology which can be developed in-house. A shop floor worker with years of expertise, might come up with a process innovation. Knowledge from employees will remain only as “Personal knowledge” as long as they are not shared with each other. Once they are shared, they become organization’s knowledge. This knowledge is valuable to the company as a whole.

By using social media in the work places, the employees are interconnected and grow together as one giant organism called the ‘organizational workplace’.

For further insights, please read our article:knowledge brokering

3.Creation of collaborative social capital

Social media is very adept at forming collaborative social capital. This tremendously enhances the positive business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace.

I was quite bewildered to read the sentence “Social capital investment is not for control freaks” highlighted in an article at the Harvard business review working knowledge website. The article reviews a book “In good company: How social capital makes organizations work”. You can view the article here.

Communities grow out of freedom of practice. Employees cannot be pushed by managers, to collaborate in a project because they have to. Employees will still do it, because they have to get the job done but it does not encourage social capital.

Strengthening social capital is good for social media in the workplace

Social capital is formed when employees would want to come together and work out of common activities, mutual intention and like mindedness. Employees do not want to work together just because they are friends.

Social capital is the influence a person has over his or her social network. The social network could be even within a workplace.

“Social capital is always strengthened and nurtured in the context of real work” say the authors.

The authors emphasize that, social capital is formed over long periods of working together and where there is mind share. It cannot be formed by “One shot bonding” for sure.

Social media in the workplace, encourages employees towards such orientation. Frequently, it is advised to have managerial intervention to steer employee engagement and social interaction towards stewardship and nurturing rather than management control. Employees should be free enough to talk about their stories of accomplishments and failures.

Such social capital formed, is indispensable and works well for the morale of the employees. Who wouldn’t want such motivated set of employees for their workplace. Social media in the workplace exactly enhances this kind of social capital and clearly is a strong case for visible benefits of social media in the workplace.

We have seen many examples, like in the usage of Wiki. People collaboratively create knowledge. Such collaborative wikis exist at workplaces as well.

For further insights on this subject, please read our article “Designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing

Social media in the workplace: Cisco

At Cisco, social media is part of their company culture. Cisco uses social media within the learning and development function. Employees continuously refresh their knowledge and skills using social media. They collaborate with each other exchanging thoughts and ideas as well as connect with their partners, vendors and communities.

The learning and development function partners with the business to understand learning needs of hardware and design engineers and effectively tailors courses for them. Even geographical distances do not hamper them.  Self-paced and web-based learning courses are being used where instructors cannot reach. Owing to this, they have reduced their travel expenses and very cost effective in meeting their needs.

4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom

Coming back to our study from Dynamic markets, mentioned quite earlier in our article, the study found that use of social media in the workplace has increased the efficiency in the organization. The study was conducted across 2500 professionals across 5 countries in Europe in 2008. Nearly 46% of the respondents said that the use of social media in workplaces has led to the spark of new ideas and creativity. Collective decision making through the usage of social media solves workplace problems as well.

There is a fine example to illustrate from the TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire” if the main contestant feels uncertain of the response to a question, he or she would choose an audience poll as a lifeline. The audience was always right and nearly as accurate.

This phenomenon is what James Surowiecki has written in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”. He states that “Large number of individual people with “independent thoughts” will certainly achieve better results than the individual single person alone

The diversity of perspectives, specialized expertise, knowledge and isolated independent inputs makes it unique to tap into this collective wisdom which all pervades in our work environment, our surroundings and the place we live and thrive.

Social media gives us a platform to integrate these collective decisions, encourages and further accelerates the integration and the power of connection among employees. The cumulative effect is obvious as new ideas and wisdom start pouring in, new powerful results start showing up in the form of improved services and products.

Social media in the workplace: Dow chemical

Dow Chemical is a Multinational chemical corporation headquartered in Michigan, USA. A wonderful example of social media at work at Dow. who have truly reaped the benefits of social media at work.

Dow created a website called the “My Dow Network” in 2007. Now it happens to be in the name of “Dow Friends” for retirees. The earlier site was created with the intention to cultivate four communities of its retirees, current employees, alumni and women.

The site gave an opportunity and a window for retirees at Dow to look into what is happening within the company, connect with other retirees and explore job opportunities, if they chose to return. Retirees can lend their experiences, expertise and contribute in newer ways. It gave them a sense of new life and a chance to connect with their peers. It received tremendous response from all quarters.

The business world hailed their efforts. Since then the community kept on growing and added newer and newer connections day by day. Dow had described this experience in a wonderful video in their site. We don’t know if it is still available at their site.

It talks about the missing human element which makes all the difference.  Interaction through social media, connects people and is the element of change.  The sayings in the video,“It gives us the footing to stand fearlessly and face the future” reinforces positive social effects of among the community of employees.

Dow has truly found a way to reach and connect its people.

5.Providing the most valuable “context” to information

We have all been using knowledge management systems in some way or the other. For example, If you want some information, you “Google it”.  Context is important and offers help, when there is a need to apply the information immediately. Also in situations where ‘Know how’ and ‘ Previous experience’ is required, context comes to the rescue.
Social media networks naturally has an advantage here. It can provide the context, the human element to the information.

In age old knowledge management systems, knowledge elicitation, capture and collection was good but it lacked the “Context”. When people are introduced to a context, it is easy to find appropriate information.

With this, the Social media networks are indispensable in work environments. We can tap into the experience and wisdom of others and at the same time satisfy and quench our thirst to share, belong and be social.

An interesting offline example for “context” is the Leadership drive called the OST (Open space Technology). An open philosophy of collaboration and self-organization, usually done at offsite meetings at major corporations across the world on complex issues facing the organization. People are free to air their views and thoughts.

Everybody is welcome. All inputs are valid and taken into account. It heavily rests on the philosophy, that no person alone can solve all the problems at work.The collaborative groups usually self –organize and a context is added appropriately to the situation.

Social media in the workplace: IBM

As a large company, IBM experiments and always launches a number of social media tools internally for its employees. Few of the IBM’s tools include Micro blogger called ‘Blue twit’ and ‘Many eyes’ which allows employees to upload all kinds of data visualize it and launch discussions about it on blogs and social networks.

A more notable one is the ‘bee hive’ which happens to be more from a bottoms up approach where employees can upload their personal and official information. Employees can upload their “top 5” favorite things and share it with others. It builds employee branding and a sense of ownership within the company.

Lastly, the final word

Many global companies are actually asking employees to reach out and create new external networks to tap into valuable ideas. With this, I would like to bring this part of the discussion to an end. I would like to add more corporate real life examples of the benefits of social media in the workplace as well as the positive effects of the business impact.

In the meanwhile, you can always refer further reading resources below:-

  1. Social media is everyone’s business – Forbes
  2. Social media is too important to be left to the marketing department – HBR
  3. Defining Social media: Mass collaboration is its unique value – Anthony, Gartner Blog Network
  4. A brand new game – People spend more time on social media – The Economist

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Office Crowd Collaboration: Social media for Nerds, Geeks and Managers

The office crowd collaboration

Office crowd collaboration needs a certain degree of openness and altruism. Everyone has a role to play and everyone plays a part in the grand scheme of things. If we realize this and do our bit, I think the usage of social media is a sure candidate for success in the world of office crowd collaboration.

The internet has become ubiquitous. It would be no harm to say that “life would be difficult without the internet”. It is the single biggest system in the world with billions of transactions, interactions and sharing that happens every single day all over the world.

Just like the internet, the corporate intranet is used to deliver services of collaboration among employees, communication and sometimes even to initiate cultural change within organizations.

Having said that, by collaboration, we mean:

“A common shared understanding among people to accomplish mutual goals”.

Within industry circles and within the context of corporate social network, the word “Social collaboration” or “Enterprise social networking” has been used extensively for the use of social media for crowd collaboration within offices.

The figures tell a story: office crowd collaboration

office crowd collaboration
The office crowd, collaborating with each other

The top management of the organization, likes the word “collaboration” attached to the word “social” for obvious reasons of productivity and profit. But how much has this been adopted and accepted within the organizations, remains to be seen.

Please read our article:  “Making Corporate social network collaboration successful

It is an insights gained, learned as well as a external follow up on the article  “Why no uses the corporate social network” from the Harvard Business review.  Further information can be gained from the study, conducted by Bamboo HR in the United States

A recent study by Bamboo hr in 2016, points that:-

68% of employees feel using social media for personal reasons as appropriate during office breaks.

And at least 50% of them would spend 10 minutes a day surfing social media sites.

A good guess is that percentage would be higher in other parts of the world. It is just not Bamboo HR, there are other monitoring organizations like the “Altimeter group” who said more or less the same.

Now having seen the numbers, perhaps a closer look at  the current trend of social media collaboration and the science behind it would be beneficial.

Social media collaboration in organizations: The science and business behind it  

It would not be a better time than now to borrow an extract from the recent edition of The Economist. 

The Economist, in its Technology quarterly supplement talks about “a new breed of robots  being designed to collaborate with humans, working alongside them to make them more productive”.

Though it may sound a bit advanced and sophisticated, the speed at which such crowd collaboration, associated with social intelligence are being conceived and developed across the world is overwhelming.

Coming back to our very mundane human existence, British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, says that the Neocortex (in the human brain) places a limit on the number of interpersonal relationships we can maintain.

The Dunbar’s number is approximately – 150.

Now the question that looks intriguing, is how a global multinational company, spread over many countries, with tens of thousands of employees, maintains meaningful connections, relationships and harnesses collective intelligence.

Continue reading

Successful Brainstorming tips: Being spontaneous and passionate helps

Brainstorming

In my opinion, the ability to see fresh beneficial opportunities from challenges and deep entanglements, is one of the proven and established benefits of brainstorming.

But how much of it, is realized by working professionals is left to be seen. Perhaps, delving a bit into this activity and highlighting few tips would help.

It was interesting to read about an Arthur Anderson Survey that more than 70% of business professionals brainstorm and they do it at-least once in a month.

That is a good number.

But then, there is a general notion among professionals that “they have seen it all” and they don’t care much about brainstorming.

The good part is brainstorming facilitates, better collaboration and better innovation.  There is no lone genius. Good ideas and insight are produced through successive iteration of ideas. It happens over a period of time  through collaboration and group think among team members.

Brainstorming is all about exercising your mental muscles and keeping it sharp. Each and every time, again and again.

Just as we exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy, it is good to regularly brainstorm.

Is there a right way to stimulate brainstorming and make it engaging and result bound not only for us but also for others?

The answer is – Yes!

Is there an online environment yet?  Probably not.

We haven’t seen it much happening on online social media collaboration platforms on the consumer side. There isn’t much focus either.

So what is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is an opportunity and an activity for the team to produce new ideas spontaneously to solve a difficult problem.

There are two key words in the above statement, which emphasizes and plays a critical role in making brainstorming very successful. They are: 1. Team 2. Spontaneously. We will try to explore on them.

Useful note:  Brainstorming as a term was popularized by Alex. F. Osborn in the 1953 book “Applied imagination”. Even earlier, Osborn, conducted many group thinking sessions and outlined his approach in his 1948 book, “Your creative power”. He wrote with clarity in his book, on how to organize a team to produce great ideas.

There are many approaches and methods to brainstorming. We will pick and choose some of the best practices around the world. It is nevertheless a challenge, to apply it within a social media collaboration context.

IDEO, an international design firm for the past 20 years have been at the forefront for spreading best practices in brainstorming, organizing and bringing together motivated teams for the same. There is ‘Brain Trust’ sessions from Pixar, to learn from as well. Pixar is the celebrated movie production and animation company, loved by people all over the world. Pixar conducts brainstorming sessions among its senior leadership team and other team members.

As we discussed earlier, two critical factors play a big role namely: Being spontaneous and motivated teams.

Here are some simple practical tips, which could help you cultivate these vital areas for successful brainstorming.

Being spontaneous and passionate for brainstorming

Brainstorming in progress
Brainstorming session in progress

Focus:  Before getting into the meeting with your team members, it is important that everyone comes in with a clear mind. A clear mind with no distractions aids in airing the right ideas on the table without bias and misconceptions. Clarity in the mind on the problem would naturally help in bring in spontaneous ideas.

One way to go about this, is to ask the team to spend about 30 minutes to an hour outside the office, before the session. Probably, a good walk in the park or around the office building would do.  The focus should be on critiquing the ideas and not the people. It is good to set aside the top-down hierarchy and go along with the dynamics of the group for initial idea building.

A good takeaway from the “Brain Trust” meeting session from Pixar is that, the group would always consist of senior people who are experts in their field. They would work individually on their ideas, at their desks and then gather for brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, the experts would air their ideas and problems openly and ask for feedback. Their ideas would be critiqued, suggestions would be offered and problems are seen from a fresh perspective.

Build and Jump: It is encouraged to build as many ideas as possible. There is no limit. As long as the team finds enough possible ideas, they would go at it. But then, when they reach a point, where they cannot go any further on a topic, it is advised to branch out and start building again.

Go for quantity:  It is always encouraged to have as many wild ideas as possible. There are no good ideas or bad ideas. All ideas are good. Go for the quantity. It is only on the successive iteration of ideas that new insight happens.

Physically think through objects: A good takeaway from IDEO is that, they always encourage their employees to bring in physical objects during the brainstorming session. Props help in looking at the problem from a different perspective. It allows team members to build fresh ideas on flaws of earlier designs. It also allows the team to talk about a problem or a great design in one object, relative to another.

Put it in writing: It is a good idea to put all the ideas in writing. When you write, you will remember and come back to it later. It is a good idea to put all the ideas on a post-it slip and stick it on the wall for everyone to see.

Build trust: Trust is one of the very important factors. Only when there is trust, will people in the team open up. It is important for the leadership team to foster a culture of trust in the organization. It is good to give everyone a free hand in the contribution process. When team members feel and see that their ideas are valued, it builds trust.

Bring in diversity: It is good to have a diverse set of team members in the brainstorming session. Diversity in subject matter expertise, experiences and gender allows to look at problems from a fresh perspective and brings in Wisdom. The ability to see fresh opportunities in long held challenges is one of the greatest benefit of having a diverse brainstorming team.

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