The workplace is flat: Social tools unifying the workplace

REDMOND, Wash. — May 27, 2013 — It’s time to expand the definition of ‘knowledge worker.’

Adam Pisoni
Adam Pisoni, Microsoft’s general manager of Yammer.

Everyone in an organization—from the CEO’s office to the mail room—has valuable information, says Adam Pisoni, Microsoft’s general manager of Yammer. The challenge companies face is how to tap that knowledge across geographies, departments and pay grades. While the nature of work evolves and becomes increasingly global, daily interactions typically involve the same faces, and information remains locked in different corners of an organization.

According to a new survey released today, employees of all levels think they’ve found the key: social technology.

“Social is moving from a nice-to-have tool to a necessity in the workplace,” Pisoni says. “As all companies are faced with the increasing pace of change, they need to leverage the power and knowledge of employees more than their current technologies allow. Just as email accelerated business in the 90s, social tools are driving a faster flow of knowledge and information within and across organizations.”

Enterprise social tools apply social media principles to the workplace, making it easier for people to share files and information with co-workers and to collaborate as teams across departments and locations. Unlike consumer services such as Facebook, enterprise social provides private, shared workspaces for employees to share inside and outside the walls of their company.

Employees are hungry to apply the same forms of social communications at the office that they find effective in their personal lives. More than 40 percent of surveyed workers feel there isn’t enough collaboration in their workplaces, and that social tools can foster better teamwork. A third say they are even willing to spend their own money to buy them.

Why? The nature of how we work is changing, Pisoni says. Work is increasingly done by virtual teams, and by workers using mobile devices. Also, the amount of non-routine work is increasing, meaning we are spending more of our time on things that fall outside of normal processes. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2015, 40 percent or more of an organization’s work will be “non-routine,” up from 25 percent in 2010.

This changing nature of work requires new types of tools that make it easier to connect, share and organize across locations, teams and devices. As work becomes less routine, employees need easier access to the right knowledge, information and insight from all corners of the organization to make fast, informed decisions.

“Employees are trying to be effective in a world where the rules and software they were given are increasingly inadequate for the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “They recognize in order to be successful in a rapidly changing world, they need to adopt new ways of working that are more collaborative and social. Unlocking the knowledge and information within organizations by making it more open will help our employees be more empowered and effective.”

Not coincidentally, social media itself is what’s driving many of these new challenges that enterprise social helps solve, he adds. Services like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp connect customers with each other, leading to rapidly evolving expectations as customers learn from each other.

It’s not surprising, then, that social in the enterprise can help companies re-wire how they share, learn and organize internally, so they can be more responsive to rapidly changing customer expectations.

Tension in the workplace

Yet there’s a disconnect in the office. While employees are gung-ho and see social as a productivity tool, some IT departments and leaders remain wary, Pisoni says. Ironically, businesses worry that social tools will drain productivity, yet, it is exactly these types of tools which employees are clamoring for in order to make themselves more productive.

As a result, more than a third of surveyed workers think their company underestimates the benefits of social technology. Nearly half say their organization frowns on social tools in general.

The challenge of bringing in social tools is more than a technical challenge, Pisoni says; a cultural change is also needed to be successful. That’s because social isn’t just another technology but something that enables new ways of working.

Some companies have struggled with enterprise social, Pisoni admits. “You can’t just turn it on and expect a cultural transformation. It’s a journey of reinvention that requires a strategy and executive commitment and support.”

To be effective you need the right tool, but also a strategy specific to your organization’s business objectives, challenges and culture.

Pisoni believes that for enterprise social tools to be effective, they can’t just be a destination; social has to be woven into the apps employees use every day in order to unite people, information and application data in a way that drives greater effectiveness, performance and agility.

Pisoni also offered a few keys to an effective social strategy. First, companies need to assess their current business priorities, challenges and culture and align their vision for enterprise social. Executive support of social tools is important, but experience shows it’s ineffective to merely mandate use. Successful enterprise social initiatives require bottom-up employee adoption, along with top-down executive support to validate the tool and commitment to learn and adapt along the way.

Successful initiatives typically start with small teams tackling specific, measurable problems (think increase revenue, decrease costs). Once those test cases prove the value of social tools, it’s easier to expand adoption.

He also reiterated that social is a journey for everyone — Microsoft included. Over time, Microsoft wants to provide connected experiences across all of the applications in your company, he says. After all, most of the collaboration taking place today happens in tools such as Office, Lync, Exchange and Dynamics CRM.

“More than any other company, we’ll be able to reach the broadest possible audience of workers because they’re already using Microsoft applications. As we bring social to those tools, we’ll be bringing this new way to work to those employees.”

The promise of social (Or, how to build a better burger)

Done right, enterprise social can drive significant business value by improving how employees connect, share information and work across teams and geographies, and beyond the firewall to customers, vendors and other key relationships.

Consider Red Robin. Last year the restaurant chain rolled out Yammer to 2,500 managers and staff in its corporate office. When the company introduced a new burger to its menu, managers used the enterprise social network to deliver customer feedback straight from its restaurants. That helped them refine the recipe in a month — a fraction of the time it would have taken in the past, says CIO Chris Laping.

Recently, Red Robin wanted to find a way to engage its large hourly workforce, 87 percent of whom are Millennials.

“Learning in analog is not the way they learn, and it’s not the way they stay engaged,” Laping says. “We need to reach them where they’re at, and that means mobile and social.”

So the company introduced what it calls “Yummerversity” to complement a new interactive training program. New hires can take to Yammer to ask questions and give feedback. Once they start work, they can upload videos of new practices. This allows the corporate office to incorporate the practices into future training.

Laping says social networking offers a huge value for a company like Red Robin, with employees spread across the country. It helps him and other executives engage with people in the field and learn from them on a daily basis.

In addition to his CIO duties, Laping is also tasked with leading business transformation at Red Robin. When his role expanded a few years ago, he knew he had to engage all team members across the organization to succeed.

“How do you get a fast path to engagement? The old model of putting out a memo, explaining your thinking, and trusting your employees to follow doesn’t work. Now, you need so much more interactivity, which is why I initially felt so strongly about Yammer. Ultimately, I realized I needed it more than anyone because I was tasked with driving change.”

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