Think about your organization and ask yourself these two questions:
- Are external social media sites restricted or blocked while at work?
- Is the use of social media in the workplace inhibited or frowned upon?
If you answered yes, then your organization is one of the majority of firms with over 100 employees that have yet to embrace the use of social media in the workplace for the average worker. In a study conducted by Robert Half Technology entitled “Whistle But Don’t Tweet At Work,” many organizations are struggling with how to integrate social media into the workplace.
However, there are a growing number of firms such as IBM, Toshiba, and Cerner Corporation that are becoming über-connected workplaces. Using social media tools such as wikis, blogs, microblogs and corporate social networks, they are connecting employees globally, and are fostering mass collaboration. As a result, these companies are seeing improvements in communication, cross-functional collaboration and creative approaches to problem solving. More companies are discovering that an über-connected workplace is not just about implementing a new set of tools — it is also about embracing a cultural shift to create an open environment where employees are encouraged to share, innovate and collaborate virtually.
Recent research provides evidence that there are business benefits to becoming an über-connected organization:
Access to social media improves productivity. According to Dr Brent Coker from the Department of Management and Marketing at University of Melbourne in Australia, workers who engage in “Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing” are more productive than those who don’t. “People who surf the Internet for fun at work — within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office — are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t,” he says. “Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos on YouTube, using social networking sites like Facebook or shopping online under the pretense that it costs millions in lost productivity, however that’s not always the case.”
Millennials will seek jobs that encourage the use of social media. Those born between 1977 and 1997 — the ones you need to hire to replace the retiring boomers — are networked 24/7 and expect the company to accommodate pervasive connectivity. An Accenture survey of Millennial preferences for various technologies at work found that they prefer to communicate via instant messaging, text messaging, Facebook and RSS feeds. What’s more, they are prepared to bypass corporate IT departments if these tools are blocked. One Millennial MBA, typical of those we meet, says, “I need to access my Facebook in order to do my job.” Has blocking Facebook today become the equivalent of denying an employee access to a phone at work 40 years ago or email 20 years ago?
Companies that provide access to social media create a more engaged workforce. Take the case of Cerner Corporation, the health IT firm. In 2009, Cerner implemented uCern, a corporate social network. In 2010, it will extend this social network to its customers and suppliers. Why? Because uCern has demonstrated significant business benefits to Cerner such as allowing employees to have increased access to experts across the globe, reducing the cycle time from discovery of new products to launch of new products, and increasing employee engagement and satisfaction in the workplace.
As we scan the workplace of the future, we see that everything we know about work — where we work, how we work, what skills we need to stay employable, what technologies we use to connect with colleagues — is changing. And these changes will only continue to accelerate as we move toward 2020, as the Millennial Generation will comprise nearly half of the workforce by 2014.
Companies who want to attract and recruit the best talent will realize becoming über-connected will be a business imperative. The journey starts with asking yourself three questions:
- What business benefits are you trying to solve? Will an increased ability to collaborate across the organization yield faster time to market, increased innovation, improved productivity, and increased collective intelligence as people are able to find knowledge and experts quickly? Will engaged employees reduce your turnover rate and subsequent expenses related to hiring new talent?
- Who needs to be involved in the coalition to become über-connected? This is not an HR, IT or Learning initiative. Rather becoming über-connected is really a new way of working. Consider forming a coalition of executives from Human Resources, Corporate Learning, IT, Legal and Corporate Communications. These are the ones who will plan, monitor and agree to a set of social media guidelines to ensure responsible use.
- What type of change management plan needs to be put into place? Recognize that the biggest hurdle is your culture and internal processes — not the technology behind the adoption of social media. Focus on finding ambassadors and influencers, then make it easy for them to share and participate in a social media pilot. Recognize that in the web community, status is built upon making meaningful contributions; so be sure to include recognition and incentives for participation early on.
Can your organization really hold on to policies that do not support the 24/7 hyper- connected lives employees are living outside of the workplace? Increasingly they are bringing digital expectations with them to the workplace. We do not think companies that compete for global talent want to continue with outdated policies. Do you?
Jeanne C Meister is an internationally recognized workplace-learning consultant dedicated to delivering competitive advantage, innovation and improved business results for organizations. Jeanne is the host of the blog, www.newlearningplaybook.com. Karie Willyerd is the Chief Learning Officer of Sun Microsystems and has been the Chief Talent Officer or head of executive development for three other Fortune 500 firms. At Sun Microsystems, she has led the organization to win over 20 awards for innovation excellence in learning. Jeanne and Karie are the authors of the book The 2020 Workplace (forthcoming in Spring 2010).
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This is an absolute must-read for any corporate naysayers left who think they have to block social media and social networking activity in their corporations. Once again, as with so many related issues, it starts with corporate culture. Is yours as open as it needs to be to compete in the changed, competitive marketplace of today?