The Economist Intelligence Unit recently published a comprehensive report (pdf) on how mobile devices change employees’ experience of work and, if handled correctly, boost performance and employee engagement.
A major benefit of mobile technology is how it can help employees collaborate more easily, which is something employees certainly seem to value. The survey in the EIU report found that 76% of respondents say collaborating effectively is important to them. This was a pleasing stat for us at Sideways 6, but less pleasing was that employees don’t seem to value collaboration for the reasons we might expect – or hope, come to that.
According to the report, employees see collaboration as making them more satisfied, creative, and loyal, but few see it as making them more productive.
Social Tools or Social Business Tools?
This misunderstanding of the benefits of collaboration underpins why collaboration tools don’t always help a firm in the way they should.
Many collaboration tools are social in nature (such as, Slack, Yammer, WhatsApp). They help employees engage and connect with each other, and give large organizations with dispersed workforces the chance to feel smaller. It therefore comes naturally that employees rank collaboration tools high in terms of their impact on job satisfaction, loyalty, and creativity.
However, these collaboration tools are social business tools and not just social tools. Increasing productivity through improved collaboration and communication is a cornerstone of their existence. Employees no longer have to run, email, and phone around the entire organization in order to find, share, or discuss information. The productivity increase from this is significant: McKinsey calculates that social business tools can increase the productivity of employees by 20–25%.
If, however, people mainly use these tools for social talk and for selling second-hand bikes, productivity gains through improved collaboration and communication will not be unlocked.
How to Establish Business Focus
One way to change this state of affairs is to get leaders to show the way. Leaders’ use or non-use of collaboration tools strongly informs employees’ perceptions and attitudes towards those tools, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review.
So if senior managers don’t signal the business focus of a social business tool, employees will often fail to recognize and realize that focus and instead view the tool as purely social. There are two ways to change this.
Communicate business value: This is as simple as informing your employees about how and why social collaboration tools are intended for business purposes. These campaigns are particularly effective if they are executed in an engaging way.
Virgin Trains’ videos about Yammer are a good example. Rather than instructing people in a top-down way, Virgin Trains encourages them in a fun and engaging (social) way to use Yammer for collaboration in problem-solving with their peers, and so producing real business value.
Showcase business value: The best way to establish the tool’s business focus is to showcase it. By initiating work-related groups, discussions, competitions or idea campaigns, leaders or the internal communications team can guide and shape the way in which employees perceive and use social collaboration tools.
British Gas is renowned for the business value of its Yammer network. It has one of the most engaged Yammer networks in the world and derives significant business value from employees’ improved collaboration.
One of the firm’s tactics is #Yamwins, a contest where “employees were required to share successful use cases that they had experienced from using the network.” One example involves an engineer who took a picture of something wrong with a boiler and then uploaded it to the Yammer network.
“Immediately, other engineers could work out what the problem was and give him advice on how to fix it”, says Liam Kilminster, British Gas’ Social Media and Collaboration Manager. This approach is precisely the kind of best practice that ensures a collaboration tool is a social business tool.