6 ways that enterprise social networks are humanizing the workplace


When was the last time you felt that you – the whole you – showed up to work?

We spend more time at work than anywhere else. More time than with our families. Than with our friends. More than we even sleep!

Fortunately, this is all set to change. Technology is, rather ironically, making us more human at work.

In her research paper ‘Organisations in the Digital Age – 10 Key Findings’ Jane McConnell calls out ‘Digital Humanizes and Energizes Organizations by Making Work Personal’ as the number one finding. Over the past seven years an individual’s capability to co-create content, communicate in real time and share information without having to go through ‘official publishers’ (which I assume means via a company’s communications department) has gone through the roof.

Enterprise social networks are playing a large role in bringing about this change. Here are five practical ways they do that:

6 ways that enterprise social networks are humanizing the workplace:

1. Random meet ups 
feetTNHere’s the thing. Many of us are sheepish about meeting new people. We stay in our departmental teams and only venture outside the team if we really have to. The functional badges we give ourselves – I’m in HR, I’m in IT, I’m in Marketing – is a classic piece of tribalism. The problems come when HR and IT feel like exclusive ‘functional clubs’, and barely act like they’re from the same company. A great solution is to set up ‘random meet ups’. Names are put into a hat and random pairings made. Based purely on chance. I could be paired up with the head of IT, or the janitor. Its completely random. Announce the pairings in your social network (X you are paired with Y this month). The network has a funny way of holding the two people to account for meeting up, Now here’s the key: they both need to feedback on the network what they learnt, however profound or banal. Random Meet Ups are ‘comfort-zone smashers’ and attract serendipity like nothing else.

2. Sharing passion
People-fieldWe all have interests outside of work. Things we are passionate about. Subjects that your colleagues are pleasantly surprised to find out….’really, you do that? I never knew’. I always remember when a colleague told me in passing how he spends his Saturdays coaching disadvantaged children – I had no idea, why would I? Works work right? But boy did my perception of him change. Well social networks can be a way to channel some of these passion area of ours. They can encourage a real outpouring of emotion in a company that may reel back from outward signs of emotion. I saw a great example of this for International Women’s Day – a fantastic global event which encourages equal rights for women. We ran an ‘ESN takeover’ for the day, had guest bloggers, encouraged conversation around the major themes. The ESN became a hot-bed of passionate and emotional posts about the role women play in our society. I was especially touched by the outpouring of men celebrating their mothers as a leading light in their lives – me included 🙂 There are dozens of special days you could celebrate this way, and your colleagues will love them.

3. Geeking out on Hobbies
cookTNHobbies I hear you say? By jove, this is work! I disagree. The more you humanise the workplace, the more connected and fulfilled your workforce will be. Humanising the workplace means creating a place where it’s ok to share gardening tips, geek out on photography or gorging on World of Warcraft. A great way to encourage this is to identify the conversations in your network which sound like potential hobby groups. Then pounce! Choose the person who appears to be the most vocal on a given topic and help that person set up their own discussion group, private or public, whichever they prefer. Light as many fires as you can.

4. Narrating work
I often get the question ‘I don’t know what to say on the network’. I agree, it’s often bewildering where to even start. Many of us have no time or inclination to become active on external networks such as Twitter outside of work, so why would we suddenly be adept at social networking inside the company. We are not digital natives, we tell ourselves. One great way to counter this is the following: We all have lightbulb moments during our days. Some profound, others more of a dim flicker. But thoughts all the same, and some for sure will be of interest to others. We are all on some kind of learning journey. We have thoughtful ideas, exchanges, challenges…. why not share those? Narrate them? Treat your social network like a live journal where you can share with your followers how your day is going. Your followers have already chosen to follow you so they will be interested. I have seen countless people start this exercise, and great things happen as a result. It doesn’t happen overnight, but a steady trickle of narration gradually builds up an online audience who will respect and listen to you. For more inspiration on this topic check out John Stepper’s Working Out Loud blog.

5.  Posting your cat
Often cited as a pet peev (‘scuse the pun) of many a community manager is the ‘cat photo’. Many people try to discourage this kind of silliness, stating that the social network should be a ‘place for business’. If your whole feed starts to resemble a Lynley Dodd book, then yes, I agree, something needs to be done. But a light sprinkle of pets, birthday cake pics, Halloween outfits and novelty xmas trees from around the world (to sight some real life examples I’ve seen!) can go a long way to humanize your network.

6.  Praising others
We all know how it feels to be praised for doing some worthwhile. Great right. And we all know we don’t do it enough, at work or at home. Gratefulness is a hugely underappreciated habit, which, like kindness often gets overlooked in the cut and thrust of working life. Promote a praising culture in your social network – how? Like everything, do it yourself. Make a pact with yourself that you’ll praise someone every week, out the blue, for something worthwhile they have done. A couple of killer insider tips: Choose one day a week, e.g. #ThankYouThursday and make it a weekly thing with the support of your champions. Secondly, if your social network allows for it, set up a keyword alert for ‘thanks’. You’ll quickly see who’s helping who out and then go praise them!

About the Author Gerard

Hi there. I'm Gerard Richardson, a social business consultant with over 10 years experience working across large multi-nationals in digital communications, both internal and external facing. This site is called thenetworked.org and is my blog / scrapbook / live journal all about the power of social networks for business. Welcome aboard!

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