It’s no secret that social media is changing the way we communicate at work. In fact, the term “social employee” has been used to describe today’s hyper-connected employees. It’s no longer just about staying connected with friends and family in their personal lives; it’s about networking and collaborating with employees across the globe to be more efficient, productive and engaged in our jobs. We expect to find information easily, to have a voice and the ability to participate and respond to real-time discussions.
A recent Microsoft survey, conducted by research firm Ipsos, reported that nearly 50% of employees believe social tools make them more productive and 77% like using new technologies that increase productivity. But, more than 30% of companies still restrict the use of social media at work or they undervalue them.
Rather than restricting employee access to these sites, Sun Life Financial recognized an opportunity to adapt and actively engage its social employees. In 2009, they partnered with IBM to launch their internal social media site, aptly named Collaboration, through IBM’s Connections platform.
Sun Life’s primary goals were to increase efficiency, productivity and employee engagement by making it easier for employees to discover, validate and re-use information while breaking down the geographic boundaries and organizational silos. The theory being: more efficient access to the right information and experts in the organization makes employees more productive; when employees are more productive and connected, they not only feel more engaged but they also help drive more innovation and faster decision making within the business.
So did their theory pan out as expected? According to Thomas Anger – Manager, Collaboration Services at Sun Life Financial – approximately 65-75% of all Sun Life staff globally are now accessing one or more of the internal social tools, like forums, blogs, communities and profiles, regularly. When asked about employee feedback he said,
“[We] are regularly receiving feedback from employees that the ability to access and leverage collaboration and social business tools internally is allowing them to feel more engaged and aware of what is happening within the organization, and that the ability to respond and reply to others in the organization with whom they had not previously communicated is making them feel they have a voice.”
Since Sun Life launched its Collaboration site, they’ve realized a number of business benefits:
- Employees are connecting across silos, departments and geographies.
- Employee profiles are making it easier for employees to connect with people with the right answers.
- Less time is being spent “reinventing the wheel” – information sharing has become more transparent and centralized, making it easier for employees to leverage existing insights and best practices from other areas.
- Sun Life executives are not only leading by example through the use of blogs and status updates, but they’re also reaching a larger audience than what was possible with email. Executive blogs have seen some of the most activity on the site as far as employee visits, comments and recommendations.
Lessons for others:
Without adopting and encouraging the use of social business tools, internal communications can feel like they’re always coming from the top down with little to no option other than email to discover, comment, respond, promote and share. On the other hand, social tools can help flatten the organizational hierarchy, which helps employees feel more engaged through a culture of participation.
Social tools also serve to bridge the information gap between new, younger employees and employees who are leaving or retiring. As Bill French said, “Email is where knowledge goes to die.” With social tools, you’ll not only be catering to the social needs of younger employees, but you’ll also do your business a favour by making information widely available instead of locked away in individual email folders.
And don’t assume that if you build it they will come – ongoing promotion, education and training is needed to encourage participation. For employees to adopt these tools on a regular basis, they need to understand what’s available, how to use it, that they’ll benefit from using it and that it’ll fit easily and seamlessly into their day. Otherwise, it’ll feel like “extra work” or that it’s “just another social media site” and usage will be much lower than expected.
Lastly, it’s important to set realistic goals and expectations for your company’s internal social media usage. A report from Information Week, called Rebooting the Antisocial Network, revealed that the majority of users still seem to prefer using public tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, than their corporate network. While this doesn’t surprise me, I think it’s an unfair comparison – internal social tools and public social tools serve different purposes and generally deal with different types of content – of course I’d prefer to go on Facebook to see the latest pictures of my niece and nephew rather than an internal Wiki to review a technical article to support the business case I’m writing… but as cute as my niece and nephew are, they won’t support my business needs. Understand what your internal site can and can’t do for employees, and set your expectations accordingly.
- Michael Fauscette: The Social Employee Manifesto
- Microsoft survey on enterprise social use and perceptions (2013)
- Bill French: Email is where knowledge goes to die
- Rebooting the Antisocial Network
- Social media banner image
- IBM Connections logo
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.