The key to collaboration is communication: we need to be able to talk to each other to get stuff done. And it’s a compelling facet of the global, hyper-networked, social and mobile new world of work that we are nevertheless in dire need of better ways of communicating with each other.
That’s what makes the emergence of social software such a remarkable and powerful gift — with profound implications for fostering innovation, driving collaboration and deepening engagement. It’s fast and scopey, enabling everything from messaging to team-mailing to live chats to file sharing to all of the usual. Yet as far as user adoption does, the workplace is proving slow on the draw. That’s particularly apparent in HR.
We are not so much at a crossroads as we are at crossed wires. A range of vendors are launching new, powerful products, and the market is growing. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, productivity improves by an estimated 20-25% in organizations that have connected employees. So how do we overcome the “you can lead a horse to water” challenge facing social software?
To facilitate user adoption, social software has to truly enhance and deepen collaboration and engagement. It has to look, feel, and act useful:
Social software has to be more than an addition. It has to be a total solution. It’s an understandable workforce complaint that shiny new platforms may just decentralize communication, requiring the management of increasing layers of inter-office email / outside email, internet / company server, and so on. We want to get things done, not stymied by choices or fractured functionality. To be an asset, social software needs to truly integrate (and not complete) with all of the above.
Social software needs to be better: quicker, faster, smarter, more usable than the existing norms. Your social network should have lots of tools for engagement and collaboration, including social profiles, individual and group and community chat and focum capabilities, blogs, wikis, and all the bells and whistles of a bona fide social network. Otherwise, it will be eschewed for those social networks that are already well established (such as the one that has nearly 1.4 billion active users and counting).
One common obstacle to user adoption is feeling like the tech is unable to accomplish any more of the heavy lifting than what we already have. But if social software is not only truly integrated but can also leverage its unique position to generate meaningful intelligence, there’s the added value. That additional layer of perceptive analytics makes adoption a no-brainer, and offers a competitive advantage as well.
Embraced By Leadership
What will enable social software to make the smoothest entry into the atmosphere is its source. This shift must be initiated and mandated by leadership: it should be presented as a clear driver of organizational change, not a byproduct of it. Communication is part and parcel of workplace culture: social software should feel like anything but a trial run. Given the option, we all revert to the norm when we’re under pressure. If leadership makes social software the new normal, the workplace will follow.
The sweet spot lies in not doing away with what we’re used to, just improving upon it. In this age of relentless innovation, the status quo lasts about a minute, and depending on the demographics, that can be trigger a certain level of discomfort. Yet one thing that truly drives employee engagement is a shared sense of discovery — and growth. Given that, social software may truly be our game changer.
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.