The Advent of the “Social Workplace”

July 24, 2014 Darcy Jacobsen

Social workplaceWhen it comes to the workplace, social is no longer a buzzword. It’s also not a fad.

Social is really just another word for being human. Because as humans, the most fundamental part of our nature is communication.

So when we talk about bringing social with us into our work-lives, in the form of advances like social recognition, we’re talking about taking all the human parts of ourselves and how we communicate, and using them to do our jobs better and more creatively. Sometimes we talk about “social business” for the greater good, but sometimes it is just about bringing our humanity to work with us. That’s it.

Adding social tools into the workplace seems so novel and exciting (and to some, frightening) because for years we’ve really tried to control and sublimate our humanity in the workplace. Human nature is to connect and communicate. To build relationships and to help each other succeed. Business is about productiveness, efficiency, and profit. For a long time those ideas did not seem to be comfortable together, and humanity seemed to be a distraction from the business at hand. In more recent years, we’ve begun to uncover exponential benefit to being connected emotionally to our co-workers, and to facilitating the sharing of information.

Effectively, businesses have two choices: To tightly control human nature, or to leverage it to work for us. Most businesses in the past have chosen the former.

As Deloitte framed it in their 2013 Tech Trends Report:

“Modern corporations owe their structure and operating models to the birth of the industrial age, where bureaucracy, hierarchy and specialization of labor were paramount for efficiencies and scale. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities, strict processes, and a “C3” (command, control and communications) mentality are tenets of the model prescribed by Max Weber, adjusted by Henry Ford and refined by Michael Hammer.

Many businesses have found success in the model. But current business practices constrain individual responsibility, accountability and capability. Sometimes that is due to real or perceived boundaries of a specific job. Often it’s because people are simply unable to navigate the organization—find the right information, specialists, or decision makers to grow ideas, build relationships with people with similar interests, or effectively work together in a multinational matrix reporting environment.”

But in the last half century, it has become increasingly more complex to navigate our organizations. For one things, they are becoming large and dispersed. After all, the top three corporate employers in 1955 had an average of 351,653 employees. Last year, Walmart alone had a whopping 2.1 million employees on its payroll… many around the globe. That’s a few too many people for an email chain or an all-hands meeting. Companies need help in the form of internal social business tools and resources. Social platforms, like social recognition, open up communication across large teams and put relationships and positive communication front and center.

Consider iABC’s recent report on the social workplace, which found that “when employees are able to communicate openly with both internal and external stakeholders, and to engage with them in social networks, engage in decision making, and feel personally valued, employees evidence greater loyalty to and trust of their employers, have more pride in their work, and feel that they can make a difference at work. These outcomes can have a positive outcome on the bottom line.” (That same report, incidentally, put paid to concerns about potential social risks, reporting that “Social media use in the workplace does not hurt worker productivity.”)

Luckily for us all, in the last few years companies have really begun to see these benefits in actually capitalizing on our innate gifts for communication and connection and using it to help us be more successful in our work. (And in our lives.)

We have begun to understand that by emphasizing, nurturing and encouraging our humanity at work, we become better workers and happier people, and all of that feeds back into the success of our companies. Because those human connections are not just to be tolerated… they are what actually enable true organizational excellence and differentiation. It is the companies who are not leveraging social, and connecting with what makes us human, that will be left behind.

Small wonder words like “flexibility,” “collaboration,” “authenticity,” “recognition,”“relationships,” “commitment,” and “meaning” have crept into prominent places in our business vocabulary.

Those words are here to stay. And so is the social workplace.

And that’s a great thing for business.

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