Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to stay late at work if something needs to be done. They are also more inclined to do something for the company when not asked of them. So, how does a business go about creating this engagement, particularly when teams are spread out across the globe?

While 41% of companies feel they knew how to build shared experiences with their employees, this drops to roughly half when working globally. And as more and more companies struggle to break down silos that have built up between departments across geographies, Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) are being touted as Dalai Lama of the internal business world, bringing peace and harmony to disgruntled and feuding corporate silos.

What is it?

So, what is an Enterprise Social Network? Well, it’s a bit like a normal social network…But for work. Companies as diverse as Deloittes, Unicef, Shell, Disney, and Marks & Spencers are putting them in place to help teams communicate.

As lead for a large corporate overseeing Yammer – just one of the many ESNs available, I saw how such a tool can help towards engagement. Overall, it helped people;

Communicate;

  • 85% of our users said that it helped them share information more easily with geographically dispersed colleagues.
  • By posting about projects, social working offered the chance to give people greater insight into what others across the company were working on putting workers from different areas in touch with other.

Collaborate

  • 92 % discovered people with experience and expertise that was helpful to them, that they weren’t previously aware of. If you’re looking for an Excel guru for example you can search to find people who have it listed as a skill in their profile.
  • Teams used live notes to work together in a secure environment, sanctioned by IT, even coming together for real-time brainstorms across time zones and geographies. Like google docs only more secure.

Stay up to date

  • Most of the ESN’s on offer have mobile apps. So, it’s up to you to follow up with whomever you like, whenever you like. If you like.

What I saw was that of their own accord, people were turning to Yammer to ask colleagues to help them, whether this be to source cheaper providers, to share experiences or for support when testing digital products.  And it wasn’t just the facebook generation. The tool was being used increasingly to help people do their jobs.

The white elephant?

While some may question the ROI of internal social media, when asked what an ESN can do for a company, I’m reminded of the story of the blind men asked to describe an elephant. The man holding the trunk says; “It’s a long, snake-like animal”, the one with the tusk; “a cold, solid and almost inanimate being”, while the guy left holding the tail believes that an elephant is a small wispy insect. It’s the same with trying to sum up what an ESN can do for a company. Frankly, it depends on the company’s aims and perspective, what you as an individual are looking for and how open the corporate culture is. Like email, like fax, and like the telephone before it, the value of enterprise social all depends on how you use it, but here are just some of the things internal social media can help with;

Transparency: Managers can post about their aims, goals, successes and challenges. However a tool will only be as transparent and open as the business culture. The best use I’ve seen is when leaders dive in to hold live Q and As online, answering questions openly and honestly. It helps to personalise them and their vision and people feel like they are being listened to. Brownie points all round.

Serendipitous connections; Just like overhearing colleagues in the kitchen chatting about a project, ESN’s open up conversations to anyone on the network. The open-nature of the posts means, that you find yourself connecting with people outside of your normal reach. Not unlike Twitter.

Productivity; One woman had been searching in vain to find information on a supplier. As a last ditch attempt she posted a message on Yammer. The next day, she found she was being offered data from another colleague which helped her negotiate substantial savings with the provider. Then there was the example of a clerk at a law firm who was able to track down a contact for a lead by posting a message on Yammer. How can you measure that?

Breaking down hierarchies: The beauty of an internal social network is that no one stands on ceremony. I’ve seen junior colleagues debating ideas with seniors and seniors offering to help out juniors. Engagement at its best.

So, is an ESN a panacea to the divisions across global corporates? Certainly not. That would be too simple. But is it one tool in the armoury towards making global working easier and helping teams feel more engaged with their work and company culture? If you’re ready to embrace open working, definitely.

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