The 7 habits of building a social workplace


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Today I attended the first Social Workplace Conference, organised by Crexia and chaired by Jon Ingham. I wasn’t sure what to expect but as I was asked to take part in a panel session about using social tools for employee communication I was sure it was going to include some lively debate. The day didn’t disappoint and there were some great speakers, talking at different levels about a topic very close to a communicators heart.

As you’d expect, there were a lot of tweets during the day so to view the full transcript check out #swconf but I thought I would jot down a few thoughts from the day as well. The last session of the day was a panel discussion around the 7 habits of a highly collaborative social organisation so based on that idea, here are the 7 habits I took away from the day:

  1. Employee behaviour and organisation culture
    Changing the culture and behaviours was a big take away from the day. There were several comments made about using tools to engage people and change a culture and it became clear that the culture needed to be there in the first place before the tool – the tool simply facilitates the conversation. As the old saying goes, you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. It is easy to go back to old habits when something is different and whilst forcing someone onto a social tool is wrong, you have to take the time to let people adapt to change. It is not going to happen in a few months – you can expect to wait 3 years for the change in culture and the business needs to understand this. Users of social media at work should not be seen as time wasters… they are working together to better the business
  2. Prepare to fail
    Organisations are never happy to admit they have failed, and likewise people don’t like to stand up and say they got something wrong. With social media, we have to accept some element of failure is likely. Most projects like this fail because people stop believing but you have to stick with it. The social tools are only part of the change in culture and changing something that has been the same for over 50 years is going to take time and you may fail along the way
  3. P.O.S.T
    A well used theory but one that needs to remain top of mind: People, Objectives, Strategy and Technology. So often a business will choose a tool before looking at the people and the reasons why first.
  4. Use social when it is appropriate
    Social technologies allow the break down of barriers like geography but it is not right for all companies. The fastest way to collaborate is to talk face to face in a room with flip chart, so if that is how you operate, don’t feel pressurised to change. There are some tools that are right for an organisation and the way we form relationships is key in understanding why Facebook is not the right tool for business.
  5. Make it human
    For so long technology has been about the tool, the system and the change it can bring. Now it is all about humanising the experience. Social software depends on the community. A team is not a community and most organisations have an audience which isn’t the same as a community
  6. Network for the greater good – break down the hierarchy
    Organisational design will play a great role in the use of social tools in the business. Our traditional models of business don’t fit with the way we operate today and having IT in the command and control centre that they are now is not sustainable. There was a great view that in the future we won’t have Microsoft installed on our computers, instead we will choose our computer and what enterprise applications we want to use. Social tools need to be integrated with the system tools inside a business.
  7. Understand what social is
    There was a nice test to see if your tool was social and I put this as the final habit as, after today, I’m convinced we confuse conversation with social. So check: Is it about people rather than data? Is it learnt rather than taught and is it going to make a difference? If so it’s a social tool.

Some great quotes from the day:

  • In 2008 it was web 2.0, in 2009 it was social media, in 2010 it was social media in the workplace, and today it is about being social in the workplace
  • Email is a linear communication tool and should not be used for collaboration as it is today
  • Never waste a good crisis, necessity can become invention so maybe now is the time to start innovating in the workplace
  • Social can do scale but it can also do intimacy
  • If it’s not creating value for the business then it’s a hobby
  • Measurement is not always a number. It could be a change in organisational behaviour
  • 49% of your employees would leave their current job for a company that clearly recognise them
  • Three ways to communicate: tell them 3 times, show them twice or let them do it once
  • As social media comes in, don’t let common sense go out

There was so much content for today that this blog would go on forever, but I have learnt things today. I have remembered what social really, truly is. I’ve got some great ideas about how to move things forward and now feel comfortable in the knowledge that the tool is the start of the journey. But I’ll end this with one final thought: social tools are communication tools at heart and we mustn’t forget the importance of internal communication when we embark on building a social workplace.

The next Social Workplace conference is taking place on 24th May 2012 – will you be there?

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